2018 Update: I often share book marketing tactics or “hacks” without fully explaining my entire creative ideology, which can lead people unfamiliar with my brand to confuse me with other authors who are doing unscrupulous things. So first, let me explain that I don’t believe in gifting thousands of copies to “hack” the USA Today or NYT Bestseller lists (those letters are meaningless to me, though I may start using them if I hit the lists with a single book of my own.)
I’m also aware that Amazon has started to crack down on ANY kind of book launch that focuses on boosting sales rank (which can be conflated with “rank manipulation”) – which means using BookBub or even your own email list to sell copies is becoming dangerous for legit authors (more on that here). That said, I try to help the tens of thousands of authors who are struggling to sell books find a way to reach more readers, without breaking any rules.
I mostly focus on listbuilding with book giveaways, building real relationships with readers, packaging and positioning your books to sell, and building up organic traffic with blogging and SEO strategies. But also, sometimes you have a great book that just needs some more visibility, and the #1 common practice for the past decade has been to try and drive a lot of sales in a short period of time to boost your sales rank so that you’re at the top of your category for awhile, thus reaching new readers.
#1. You can advertise heavy on AMS, Facebook or book promo sites like BookBub.
#2. You can email your launch or discount deal to your list.
#3. You can gift copies to your list – when claimed, you’ll get a small spike in rank, though not as much as you would for a sale.
Alt 1: You can set up an Amazon giveaway, and gift up to 50 copies at a time – all copies must be claimed in 24 hours to see rank boost
At 2: You can now use GoodReads giveaways and gift up to 100 copies at a time. Copies should boost rank when transaction goes through and copies are claimed.
When I was building my platform and experimenting with book marketing, I was curious whether such tactics worked or were urban legend, so I tested rigorously and wrote case studies such as this one. For authors who don’t want to invest in building up a solid author platform organically, aren’t interested in building an email list and are just looking for a way to get visibility for their book and hit #1 for a day, these tricks can work.
They’re also meaningless, in that they won’t influence long-term sales. And they take more work than is necessary. I still use variations of #3, because I deliberately give all my books away for free to my list instead of hardselling new releases, which means I don’t get much of a rank boost. Going forward, instead of giving away thousands of copies, or giving out ARC copies with Bookfunnel, I’ll probably start with Goodreads and Amazon giveaways to give books to my readers without taking a sales rank hit, followed by a discount deal for the rest of my list who didn’t get free copies.
I’m now able to launch books well and keep them earning long term, because I have built a loyal audience, but most authors don’t want to learn how to do that, they want cheap and easy hacks. Since they are looking for strategies like this, I make sure to weigh in so they can get reliable data on the risks and rewards. I have also participated in large boxsets that gift thousands of copies, because I enjoy partnering with other authors on a common goal and it’s a great way to introduce my writing to new readers. Though I don’t agree with many of the marketing efforts such sets employ, I also will not condemn them (I don’t think authors must necessarily be held to a higher moral standard than any other small business seeking visibility).
That said, I never manipulate or trick readers; I’m careful not to cross Amazon by breaking any rules; and my reputation in the self-publishing community is important enough to me that I strive to avoid controversies. Amazon is changing all the time, so make sure you look for updated information.
When I first heard of Amazon’s new giveaway feature I was skeptical.
People can sign up for the giveaway by following you on Twitter or Amazon – neither of which are great. When you’re starting out, you want to get strangers on your email list to build your relationship. And there are other, better giveaway tools for that, like KingSumo or UpViral.
I’m also unconvinced that having a lot of people follow you on Amazon is a great idea, because you can’t control it. It’s also pretty new, and it seems like maybe Amazon emails your followers when you publish something new, but Amazon changes frequently, who’s to say it’ll even be around in a couple years?
Again, better to get them on your email list. (However, after they’re on your list, by all means get them to follow you on Amazon).
I run giveaways on Goodreads because I know it’s an active community and the giveaways will reach new readers outside of my network. I didn’t think Amazon did that, so I didn’t see the value in the giveaways. But an author friend recently told me they’d gotten a lot of signups for their Amazon giveaway without much promotion.
If an Amazon giveaway reaches new readers, it might be worthwhile, so I decided to test it.
First, I gave away a bunch of cheap ebooks.
Why I like it
It may not be the best giveaway option in the world, but you don’t need a website or any 3rd party software. You just buy the thing you want to give away and share the Amazon link, which is super easy. It’s an easy, free way to giveaway copies of your book.
BUT, I was right – Amazon doesn’t promote it for you. (Edit: You can set it up to make it public and your copies will probably get claimed – so somebody is seeing your giveaway; I don’t like that because it may not be the right readers, so it may have an adverse effect on your also-boughts. I’d rather build my list first, fill them with targeted readers who actively read books in my genre, then offer them my giveaway without making it public.
Sales ranking hack
I want to believe buying ebooks for your Amazon giveaway boosts your sales rank, which could make it AMAZING. Because, it’s hard to just buy 30 copies of your own book. But you could do one giveaway on Amazon, and buy 30 prizes, and boost your rank a bunch.
But it’s complicated, and not very elegant…
It might make sense for print books… except if you’re doing print books you should be using Goodreads, because it has a built in community and they’ll sign up with zero promotion. Results have been mixed (Amazon giveaways did boost rank, then didn’t in early 2017, then did again…)
As noted earlier, product giveaways to get more reviews or reach more readers are an Amazon Sponsored Feature. It’s a recommended, supported way of marketing your books. It gets into gray territory when the aim is to boost rank, rather than to reach more readers or get reviews, but that’s a discrepancy with intention, not practice (the practice of setting up the giveaway is the same either way).
It gets into sketchier territory if you’re in KU, and by boosting rank you may get more borrows, so you’ll take more of the KU pot. Done to an extreme level, such as buying or borrowing tons of your own books to artificially inflate rank, this behavior is beyond shady and will probably get you banned, even though Amazon is sometimes slow to take action.
Also boughts hack
One thought I had was to giveaway books by other authors in my genre.
I’ve already been doing this… but I did it with signed, print books and those are a pain in the ass. It might help for also boughts, but it’s expensive.
It’s so much easier/better/cheaper to giveaway ebook copies and just “gift” them to people.
However, making 10 different Amazon giveaways, so they follow you on Twitter or Amazon, doesn’t make sense (they can’t keep following you to enter each new giveaway). So I decided not to use Amazon giveaways for this.
Instead, I’ll just run ONE giveaway on Gleam, they can enter however I choose, and I can let winners choose the books they like and I’ll gift them the Kindle copy.
- I boost also boughts for all books
- I can gift a copy of MY books to boost rank
- I can have a “best X books of X genre” post that authors link to
- I can tell other authors I’m giving away a copy of their book
I’ll start doing this for all my launches. Check out an example here:
Best books for teens based on Greek Mythology.
Edit: I used lots of book giveaways to build my platform, and I still like to reward readers by sharing my favorite books. And it’s still not a bad idea in terms of setting up your also-boughts quickly, while building relationships with other authors in your genre. But I don’t do it much anymore because I don’t need to.
You can also gift copies of your book directly to readers. Previously I just promised free books to my readers and launch my books with a free campaign. In the future, I could just GIFT 1000 copies of my book. It would take a REALLY long time, but those gifts would count toward paid sales rank, and put me up to #1 bestseller REALLY quickly and easily, which is amazing. (Edit: this is my early enthusiasm showing – I tried out gifting 50 or so copies for new releases but it was too much work so I stopped. Yes, you could build a huge list and manually gift 1000 copies to spike rank, but it would cost a lot and you probably wouldn’t earn back your money, so there’s no reason to do it. If you just want to be #1 in your category, you can get there with about 100 sales – as I mention in my more recent material, I think anybody can build a large enough author platform to sell 100 copies to actual readers in under a month, and 100 sales should be enough to get the ball rolling as long as you’re also giving away about 1000 ARC copies to get book reviews first).
The reason I was initially excited about Amazon giveaways, was because it seemed like you could set up a giveaway to “gift” a lot of copies of your book automatically, instead of needing to gift 1 copy of your book by email, one by one, to hundreds of people.
With giveaways you have the option to set winners at “1 in 400” or something like that. I would do 1 in 5 and try to get 2000 signups. I would gift 400 copies. At 99cents it would cost about $400.
PLUS you’ll get some money back for all those sales, so it will cost less (you can run the numbers and see if a higher prices book at 75% would make more sense).
400 books @ 99cents at 35% = spend $396, earn $138.6. Cost = $257.4
400 books @ $2.99 at 75% = spend $1196, earn $897. Cost = $299
When I wrote this article I said: “As an easy way to seriously bump your Amazon sales rank a TON… actually the best way to do it, hands-down, Amazon giveaways seems like a pretty epic book marketing hack.”
This information was meant to help authors reach more readers quickly, and have a successful launch on a budget without doing all the heavy-lifting that most authors shy away from (blogging, listbuilding, etc). It seemed fun and harmless at the time to look for “Guerrilla” book marketing hacks to get lots of visibility with minimal expense or effort.
I no longer recommend them, not only because they aren’t terribly effective, but because Amazon has began to crack down on any kind of rank manipulation. It’s better to get long-term, slow, steady sales and consistently rank well without any huge promotion.
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I’m a philosophy dropout with a PhD in Literature. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write fantasy novels to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles.
Great stuff as always, Derek. There’s something I’d add as a caveat to an author gifting their ebooks: be aware that recipients of these gifts have a choice. They can accept your ebook or they can exchange it for the same value in credit to their account. (They can also return your ebook for a full refund, to their account, within the stipulated time frame.) Exchanges (and refunds), obviously, don’t count to your sales rank or to your royalties, which means you’re out of pocket and have nothing to show for it. Of course, since most people (I like to think) aren’t out to screw others over, it’s going to be a numbers game…and depending on the price of your ebook, it may well be a worthwhile gamble for the potential benefits. Gifting on sales days (I don’t think you can gift free ebooks) might be the best way to maximise the benefits. However, maybe your advertising money could be better spent in other ways? 65c x 1,000* is still a chunk of change at the end of the day… (* 99c ebooks giving you back 35% in royalties rounded to a 65c cost.)
I agree, I think using Amazon’s giveaway instead may work, since you prebuy your own book and they redeem your book if they win, but I’ll test both soon.
I wish I’d read this before I gifted one of my books and got stung.
It does has an effect on your ranking, but only to the same effect as anyone else buying a copy of your book.
Seeing that return on something you have gifted to a prize winner is a kick in the teeth. It won’t happen to me again.
I’m always grateful to see you trying out all these hacks and posting the results, even when the results are mixed. My question: are you sure that the recipient of the Kindle gifts is credited for the “also bought” and not the giver? Does it matter? Thanks!
I haven’t had any luck with this actually – gifting copies and giveaways don’t seem to have any effect on rank.
When you gift your own book do you have to pay for it.
Yes, you do. There’s a “gift this book” option on your book page.
But before you do that, see my extensive comment above.
As you say, the main thing is to get people on your mailing list. People who are interested in your books. The problem with Amazon Giveaways is that there is a whole industry of people who get the stuff just to sell it on ebay. So, the followers you get are useless. I’m experimenting with trying to get people to sign up on my mailing list before they get the link to the Giveaway. So far, no takers, but it has kept the spammers out of it. You’re better off not giving away any books, than giving them to people who make money by selling them on ebay.
That’s interesting. Actually I think most of those people post the book for sale on ebay at a mark up and only buy the book if they sell it on ebay, they probably use computers to pull info from amazon and list thousands of books.
I only use Amazon giveaways now to get my current followers to also follow me on Amazon, because I think that helps book launches… for listbuilding I use KingSumo and targeted Facebook ads, but yes you have to be careful only to attract readers, so it’s best to just do a book giveaway (no amazon credit) that will appeal to those readers.
One of the problem I see, from experience of gifting my own books (NOT via the giveaway option, but doing it manually) is that Amazon then allows the recipient to return the purchase for a refund.
I’ve taken Amazon to task over this, asking how they can refund someone who didn’t actually buy the product to start with. If a refund is given, it should go to the original purchaser, not the person who was gifted the ebook/product.
I have since found out this practice is rife with Amazon, and prize recipients do this often with an aim to get enough credits to buy something they “really” want, rather then “be stuck” with the prize they were given.
Just some food for thought for the uninitiated. (It was a rude awakening for me, believe me.)
Thanks, yes you’re correct – I try to only do it with people on my list so they aren’t just scammers but you can’t be sure.
Gifting copies of your book boosts your sales rank on Amazon if the person you gift it to claims it within 24 hours. It absolutely did boost my rankings when I did this, but because of the 24-hour rule, I didn’t get a boost out of every copy I gifted.
I did notice that after my rankings went up, I was getting more halo effect sales, but gifting books is only a good long-term strategy if you are targeting people who will actually read them and who may realistically become fans who buy future books. The net cost per acquisition after royalties is still around $2 on a $2.99 book at the 35% royalty. It’s a better CPA than you can get through other channels, but it’s not profitable as a standalone tactic. If you target right, it could be for total lifetime value.
I wonder if that still works. I had a giveaway end two days ago, and my rank did not go up, nor did my Kindle sales register any sales at all. That would suggest that I do not get royalties, either.
A gift is different from’a giveaway. A gift is when you pay the retail price out of pocket and send someone a voucher for your book. It is not an author feature. Anybody can gift anyone else a book. And since it’s a sale, it counts toward rankings. I always gift when given the opportunity. If the book is cheap the cost/benefit can work out,depending on what you’re trying to do with rankings