Shearwater Launch (an epic fiction launch case study)

Shearwater Launch (an epic fiction launch case study)

I had good intentions. I meant to boil down my most recent book launch into a simple, one page roadmap. Instead, like usual, I have a sprawling document worth of notes – I’m going to share it here so it can start being useful. Make sure you scroll down to the end and read “my original plan” – that’s what I should have done, it’s clear and simple and easy to follow, but is mostly just about spending a lot on strategic ads.

Originally, this top-secret document was going to be called…


The no-stress, one-page book launch roadmap I used to sell 1000 books in a week.

For a simple outline of my 10-step process, click here.
But to see it in action, and understand why I did things the way I did, keep reading.

I know a lot of authors are overwhelmed by the work, effort, frustration and confusion that book marketing can take, so I mapped out a simple, easy-to-follow plan to launch a book successfully.

It’s not a free plan. I’d rather pay a lot to make my book successful immediately, rather than waste months on cheap, desperate strategies that don’t work at all. That said, my goal with this plan was to sell 1000 books during launch, which should earn at least $1000 – so I was comfortable spending that much.

I’ve actually sold 884 copies so far, but I didn’t do the full launch strategy I’ve mapped out below.
Even so, Shearwater has earned almost $3000 – it earned $400 this week with no promotion, so it’s “sticking” pretty well – I could certainly be doing better, but I’m happy with the results. 



For most books, if you’re starting with zero platform and don’t have a big budget, you should be shooting for 100 sales on the first day. That should be enough to put you near the top of your category, and possibly break into the top #1000 on Kindle. For a first launch with no platform, I’d call that a success.

It’s also possible to do everything on this list and not see results. If your cover, description or reviews aren’t good enough, or if you wrote a book with no market, people may not buy it even if you put it in front of them. But if you’ve done everything else right and have an attractive, desirable book that people like, you should launch hard and try to get a lot of visibility at once. This is how I do it.




Before you launch a book, you should be building an email list of potential readers. I do that with book giveaways. Firstly, you need to know who your readers are and what they like. So I find 10 bestselling books in my genre that I think are similar to mine (don’t guess or assume – read those books or the reviews and make sure they have a lot in common with your book).

ONE: Make a blog post, featuring those 10 books with a short review or summary, linking to the books and author’s websites. Pick a flattering title like “10 amazing books in X genre.” Pick keywords people are searching for. Because I write YA, I knew that “best books for teens” is a common keyword, so I created about a dozen “best (werewolf/alien/pirate/dystopian/scifi) books for teens” posts.

Those rank well for keywords, which means I’ll get long term traffic, and also get the attention of the authors I’m including. Plus if I share on Twitter or Facebook and tag the authors (or just email them and say I’ve included them) they are likely to retweet or share my content with their audience.

TWO: Then I do a book giveaway with those ten books. You can use rafflecopter or Gleam, though I prefer KingSumo giveaways. I give away those books, and then use Facebook ads to reach readers who like those authors, books and genres/topics. For about $100 in ads I can get 1000 optins, often more.

Before the contest is over I email them and remind them to share to increase their chances of winning. I usually also include cool things with the books—recently I ran this one. I included the hashtag #fallenmovie which was trending, and got Lauren Kate to share it with her platform (over 200,000 followers).

The other way to build a list is to put out an ARC (advanced reader copy) of your book on InstaFreebie. You can put out a few chapters, or half the book if you want. If it’s an ARC version, you can give it away before publishing and still enroll in KDP Select. InstaFreebie has its own audience so you can build up a list before you publish (you can also use BookFunnel for ARCs, but then you need to advertise or promote to get the traffic and signups).

You can also put some of the book out as a permafree book. It’s unusual, but I did it this year—I published 4 half-books and put them on permafree. They get about 500 downloads a day, which means for the past six months or so I’ve gotten over 50,000 downloads. That’s a lot of visibility. Some readers don’t like not getting the full book, but it’s free so they don’t complain that much—especially when I explain they’ll also get the full book for free if they sign up to my list. It’s still a little unpopular, but it works, and it’s easy.

*Most authors try and give away a free book from their website, but that won’t work unless you’re driving a great deal of traffic, which is difficult to do if you don’t know what to blog about. You need free content somewhere people can discover it easily.*

Finally, you can research potential reviewers or book bloggers who might be interested in your book and reach out to them directly. You can Google your ten similar books to see which sites have reviewed them, or look at all their reviews on Amazon and look for contact info (it’s there about 1/3 of the time). Recently I used BookRazor to do this research for me, and built a list of 1000 potential book reviewers for my target audience (and alternative service is Reviewers for Books). If you’re cold-emailing, be careful. Offer them a free book but don’t spam them. I usually include a link to one of my big giveaways or share a few other books from friends that they can get for free as well. I don’t say “would you like a book in exchange for an honest review?” (because, if they use the words “in exchange for” or similar in their Amazon review, they’re likely to get flagged and removed).

I just send them a link to the free book and ask them to check it out; you can indicate you’re hoping to get more reviews but not that you expect it automatically.


I’m a huge believer in writing books that satisfy readers—writing books that will sell. I think tropes should be embraced, not avoided. I think your book needs to be similar to, not different than, other bestselling books in your genre if you hope to join their ranks.

This is something that really needed to have been done in the beginning. If you didn’t write a book for a certain market or genre, and aren’t sure where it belongs or who will enjoy it, that’s a huge problem for you. But you still must decide on which genre it’s closest to, because you need to position it so readers know what to expect from it. If your book has vampires and werewolves in it, make sure to say so in your description. Even if it’s not a ‘typical’ paranormal romance/supernatural thriller, it would be a mistake not to use those keywords (you can actually just say “this is not a typical paranormal romance or supernatural thriller…) – you’re still using popular keywords, which will get the visibility.

COVER DESIGN: The cover needs to attract the readers of your target genre. It needs to look like other bestselling books in your genre. Mood and emotion is conveyed by colors and textures. A landscape or scene + a central protagonist is a foolproof layout. Color and contrast makes it more eyecatching. Fonts indicate the genre.

If readers can’t guess from the cover what genre it belongs in, that’s a problem. It should be immediate and obvious. And it should be attractive or cool. You can sometimes find high quality premades or get something simple on, but a decent cover will usually cost over $300 and possibly much more (I charge $829 $1500). But price isn’t an indication of quality: first time authors make the same common mistakes even if they’re paying for an expert designer. Choosing the wrong cover (the one you like, the one that you think represents the heart and soul of your book, rather than something simple and powerful that will attract readers) is a critical mistake.

For more tips on cover design visit

FORMATTING: Pay someone to do it for you, or do it yourself IF you have time and patience to learn the rules and do it right. You need an interior PDF for print books and ebook files for Kindle and other sites; you can also just upload a word file to KDP or Draft2Digital, but it may not look right unless you’ve formatted the original document well.

For more tips and templates, visit

BOOK DESCRIPTION: The cover attracts attention and gets them to want to know more. The description actually sells the book. This isn’t a summary or synopsis, you are just sharing the core conflict, the setting, the major problems or mysteries challenging the protagonist, and making readers want to know what happens next. It’s worth getting this edited or help from a professional. And keep tweaking all the time to make sure it’s as good as it can be.

KEYWORDS AND CATEGORIES: Even if your Amazon page (cover, description, reviews) are amazing, people still need to find your book. Ideally you want to rank on the first page or top 20 of your category. For most categories, you need to use the “keywords” field on KDP to get into the category you want.

You can find those here.

But you should also use some keywords that people are searching for in your subtitle and book description. For example, Shearwater is a “young adult dark fantasy mermaid romance”… so I want to use that phrase at least once, plus repeat some of those words. Plus add the setting (Ireland) themes (magic/transformation/witchcraft) and genre tags (supernatural/paranormal/urban fantasy).

The description is about the story and needs to hook readers from the first line and leave them wanting more; but adding keywords lets your book be discovered by people searching on Amazon.

You can list up to 10 categories on Amazon by contacting customer support and asking them to add you to more. They will show at the bottom of your amazon page; only the ones you rank in the top 100 for will show up higher, and only the best three categories (if you choose less popular categories you may be able to get the orange bestseller sticker much easier, which will help with conversions).

I can help my Amazon page rank better for keywords by posting articles on high-authority sites (like this one!) using keyword anchor links, like this: Check out my young adult mermaid romance!

Book Reviews

You should have at least 10 reviews before you start marketing, even for a free book campaign. If you’ve done the book giveaways or things I listed earlier, you should have a decent list, maybe 1000 readers who enjoy your genre, and hopefully they’ve read some of your book already. Remind them the book is launching soon. The trick is, getting everyone to review quickly on launch day is difficult. So I usually do a “soft launch” – where you publish the book, ask your followers to review it, but then wait a week or two before doing a big announcement or trying to push it to strangers.

However you can also get reviews early, by putting your book on preorder. You can’t review a book on preorder, but you can get your print book set up – you can make it available, then make it unavailable (by uploading a new file and not approving it). Then ask your readers to post reviews on the print book page, which will show up for the ebook also.

It’s very difficult to get reviews by cold emailing. With the leads I got from BookRazor – my open rates and response rates were lower than what I normally get with giveaways. However, the quality of the leads was better, as many of them were book reviewers or had a book review website. I only emailed them once so far, and I may try one more time or resend to the unopens, but you have to be careful not to pester or email someone frequently who doesn’t know you and didn’t sign up to your list (or they’ll mark your mail as spam).

This is the mail I sent out, notice I do some social proof and name dropping which helps boost credibility.

Hi there, my name is Derek Murphy and I noticed you read/review YA fantasy books similar to mine on Amazon. I wanted to offer you my books for free, because I think you’ll really enjoy them.

Collectively they have over 300 reviews on Amazon and have gotten over 50,000 downloads this year.

So far I’ve only published Part One (the first half) of each story, but it’s a substantial half (the first half of Shearwater is as long as a full book in itself!). I don’t make fans pay for my books though, so if you like it and sign up to my main list (fans only) I’ll always make ARC copies available to you for free.

I also do a lot of book giveaways, and share free books from my friends when they post them. (Right now I’m doing a giveaway for fans of the Fallen movie, that Lauren Kate shared on social media… you can sign up for that here if you want).

Sorry for the intrusion, I’m just trying to reach new readers. If you’re not interested in getting some books for free you can just ignore this email.

It’s less spammy because I’m offering something for free, but it’s still a bit risky. Overall I got several responses from people that were happy I reached out. Out of 1000 leads I’ll probably get about 50 reviews, which isn’t all that bad. Usually you can expect about 1 review for every 100 sales or downloads, but that number drops if you’re doing a free giveaway or emailing cold – strangers who have no motivation to review are different from readers who invested 99 cents or already have some idea about who you are.

HOT TIP! Another reason to start with permafree books is that readers are much less picky when they’re getting a free book, so most of my reviews are “this is better than I expected.” Once you switch to paid, even at 99cents, you’ll start getting more critical reviews.


Preorders  can sometimes be a good idea – they let you have something up that’s discoverable several months before your book launches. The sales, on some platforms, count on launch day and will boost rank. On Kindle, the sales boost rank as they come in, and it seems Kindle suppresses the rank a bit on launch… so it can be frustrating trying to boost your rank on launch day after a preorder campaign because the rank might seem *frozen* or inaccurate. (The same thing happens after a free campaign).

Still, I’ll usually do preorders because it allows the book to have some history, which beefs up the “also bought” section which is important. Be careful however, you need to upload a finished manuscript 10 days before launch (you can upload alternate versions up to about 3 days before actually, but then not until after the launch). If you miss your window, you’ll lose the ability to put a book on preorder for one year.

*Note: I just lost my preorder abilities for a year – it’s the second time I’ve done this – because I wasn’t able to meet my deadlines. That sucks, but it’s not the end of the world, and it’s better than letting all my best fans get a rough version of the book with too many typos. I have over 700 preorders for my next book, but after that will just publish when each book is done. I’ll probably focus more on my semi-perma-free method.

Extras and Bulk Orders

You can drive preorders by offering some kind of bonus content or value-add. For example, everyone who preorders will get a signed postcard of the cover art, or a pendant (I’ve bought hundreds of little mermaid charms, golden scissors, or other cool things that match the theme of my book from or Alibaba). However it can be a pain to keep track, collect addresses and mail things out. 100 might be doable, but if you’re shooting for 1000 preorders it’s a major task. If you have print books set up as well you can offer prizes for bulk orders. For example, I’ll probably give away a mermaid blanket for anyone who buys 5 copies of Shearwater on launch. I’ll just barely break even, but the sales will help my rank and “stickiness” (plus that’s 5 more copies in the world that might find readers). EDIT: didn’t end up doing that, but I did run a giveaway for visibility… more on that soon.

It’s easier for non-fiction: from now on when I launch a non-fiction book I’ll probably have a companion course, so if they preorder, leave a review or buy print copies they can earn free entry into the courses, or win some extra services or marketing help from me (free consultation hour, etc). This should be something that fits your book’s theme and is attractive to your target market, but it doesn’t have to be… I may, for example, offer this cheat sheet to anyone who preorders Shearwater – there are lots of people who may not actually want to read my YA fantasy book, but would be happy to preorder it in order to see the launch strategies I’m using to market my fiction.

Also Boughts

You can start improving these before you launch for more visibility, if you do preorders. Some things I do:

  • Set up lists of “best books in my genre” and drive traffic (with ads, or by recommending to my list) so my book gets bought along with other bestsellers in my genre. I might also do a giveaway of these books to increase backlinks and long term traffic, and get the authors included to share my post featuring their books.
  • Use Amazon ads to make sure my book shows up next to those I’m targeting – better if they are midlist books very similar to mine rather than major bestsellers.
  • Ask fans to buy a package of books to win a big prize.
  • Offer to buy/gift a package (my book + 3 others I’m targeting, for example) as a prize, for 10 or 20 people.
  • Recommending other books they might enjoy from the back of my book (usually just linking to the post I made with the big list of similar books).

It can take some investment to see results, but having your book show up in the also boughts of other books can make a big difference in long-term sales.

For this book (Shearwater) I put the book up a month early on pre-order and used Amazon ads. I wanted it to show up and start building history so my also boughts were strong. (Amazon ads haven’t been working that well for me for this book; I think it’s possible “mermaid” isn’t a popular subject and turns a lot of people off.


I’ll try to send out ARC’s a month in advance, to the list I’ve been building. You can limit the number of copies and also add a note, such as “I’m giving out this round of advanced copies only for fans who can read and review the book quickly. If you won’t have time to read and leave a review during launch week, please wait and download the books later.” (I also don’t want everyone to download the full book on Instafreebie or BookFunnel because I’d rather they download on Kindle during my free days to boost the rank up higher.) Still, I may give anywhere between 100 and 500 free ARC version of the book out to beta readers so I can get a lot of reviews posted as soon as possible (or early, if you instruct them to review the print book).


During this time, I might be talking about writing my book, the book I’m working on, engaging in Facebook groups or on Reddit, asking questions, building relationships with other authors, and getting myself out there (not selling the book, just letting people know what I’m working on).

I may also take 10 to 50 passages from my book and turn them into image quotes – either very simple ones (screenshots of my work in progress) or nicely designed ones with a picture background (you can get these made on, or use Canva or Wordswag). These you could share, several a week, with a link to your website or preorder page. (Probably both – most people won’t see an image quote and go buy they book. But they might see the image quote and sign up to get the first 5 chapters for free, or sign up to get a free ARC copy when the book is ready).

Less promotional stuff will get shared more. As an example, here’s one I made for one of my book review sites.

So ads, or links to your preorder page, or “buy now just 99cents!” will mostly get ignored and be seen as spammy. But something authentic and natural, like “I just finished chapter 20 and I love this passage… more coming soon!” will get more engagement and shares. You can and should test both though. Don’t post the same type of content.

Also be looking for other authors you can support in your genre. The month before a launch I’ll want to be especially active and supportive, volunteering to help other authors with their book launches and promotions, sharing their books with my lists, etc. You can do this deliberately, such as having a “list share” or “you buy my 99cent book and I’ll buy yours” – and you can do some of that also, but you’ll make a better impression if you just help people without asking for anything in return (if they do return the favor, they’ll do it because they want to and it will be more effective). Edit: I’ve been using recently to organize list-trades.

Facebook pages

I actually prefer groups to pages because they get more engagement – typically with a Facebook page less than 5% of your “likes” will ever see your content unless you boost your posts. However, if you want to run Facebook ads (which you do), you need a page (I heard Facebook is changing this so you can advertise with groups, but I don’t think they have yet.)

So I have a Facebook page and a Facebook group – I do giveaways with Gleam to get a lot of Facebook likes quickly. I don’t ask other authors or family members to like my page (you want real fans, not favors). I set up a page for Urban Epics – “free books for YA readers”  rather than something like an author page just for me or my books, which is harder to get people to like and support (unless they are already fans of your work, but you want to reach readers before they’re fans of your book.)

If I do boosted posts or boost the giveaways I run on my Facebook page, I’ll get more likes and follows because people seeing that content will like the page because they want more free books.


Amazon and Goodreads Giveaways

You can run Amazon giveaways to get people to follow you on Twitter or Amazon (I usually do Amazon).

You can also giveaway a whole bunch of copies of your ebooks, which is a work around since you can’t buy more than one copy of your ebook on one account. I believe doing it this way may boost your ranking a little but not as much as a real sale. You can also gift copies by email but it’s more time-consuming (if you’re doing it to boost rank, it’s better – an easy way is to email your list and say, “the first 20 people who reply to this email with “I WANT” as the subject, I’ll gift a copy of the ebook…” gifting 20, onces they’re claimed, should boost your link. 

Goodreads Giveaways are for print books only, I usually give a few books away because I want my book on GoodReads to get added to a lot of TBR (to be read) lists.


Recommended prelaunch goals for a first time author:

  • 1000 interested fans on email list.
  • 25 reviews before launch.
  • 100 preorders.


My Prelaunch goals: 1000 preorders.

Preorder offers:
1. Postcards for preordering (for fans who are eager to read the book).

2. My book launch cheatsheet (for people who may not be interested in the book but are willing to pay to see how I launched it).

My offers didn’t go so well – I did get about 300 preorders for Shearwater, which is great, but a long way off from 1000. The easiest way to get lots of preorders would have been to keep book one free and add a link to preorder book two. But mostly, I wasn’t promoting much because I had to finish the book – I was way late, again, and rushed to meet the launch date, and actually had to upload a copy without the epilogue with a link to where I would add the epilogue when I finished it. That early version also had a lot of typos, so I got a few reviews mentioning editing issues, even though the new file is much cleaner.



I put the book up on preorder 2 months early (11.26), and started including the Amazon link in some posts or articles, along with the new cover. Because of that, and I believe because of all the people that follow me on Amazon (you can’t tell the exact number, but since I’ve given away so many free books this year, I guess it’s higher than average), Shearwater was already in the top 5000 paid and #1 in two categories on launch. Part one was permafree, and I added a direct link to preorder the full book at the end, along with my offer to get part two for free if they sign up on my site (I’d rather have the fan on my list than the one-off sale. This is still just the first book in the series, so I can make money later as long as I get them hooked and build a relationship with them).

  • I requested more categories from KDP support – you should be able to request up to 10, and the top 3 you’re ranking up will show up first.
  • With no promotion, my rank slipped to 26,258. I didn’t think I could get the orange bestseller sticker on preorder, but apparently I can, so…
  • I started some Amazon ads (sponsored product) to see if I could boost it enough to get and keep the orange sticker, which would help promotion. I’m still not really marketing this yet but I want the also boughts to show up – so I’ll pay to get the book to show up next to other books I hope to show up for in the also boughts. Without reviews, however, advertising probably isn’t going to work very well (it would be smarter to advertise the first book in this series, which is free, and put a link in the back of that one to the full book on preorder. I’ll probably do that also.)

On 12.2, I had new covers up and the books were on preorder. They weren’t totally ready but I wanted to boost the rank. So I set up this page. In it I offer to send a postcard of the cover art for anyone who preorders – I’m using the online service / iphone app “postcardly” to send these. I can do it from my phone or computer, from anywhere, and it costs $1 to print and send per card (so, at 99cents I’m losing money, but it’s still a great way to get a lot of sales quickly.

12.3 – that offer barely worked, so I Tweeted and boosted a post on Facebook for $20.

Then I resent the email without pictures to see if it would get more opens.

I wanted to advertise the FREE book before Christmas to get to the top of the store.
I booked these, which are my favorite promotion sites:

FreeBooksy, ENT,, Book Barbarian, Robin reads, Choosy Bookworm, Fussy librarian.

 It got up to #79 in the free store, and #1 in my categories.

Then I emailed my list again, asking if they liked part one and reminding them to post a review. I also told them the rest would be done soon and I was going to send out ARC copies.

1.17… still writing the book but getting close to done. Still have a couple days to clean it up and edit it. Yes, cutting close to the wire, not advisable but it seems to be my process. So, I sent out a message letting my list know it was coming soon, and offering 8 chapters sneak preview. I put it up on instafreebie/ bookfunnel. 

I wanted to get some prebuzz, so I added a “share to unlock” button on my site.
So first, they had to share to unlock, then they found the links to the BookFunnel page where they could download everything.


I used “Social Locker” to hide link to sneak preview. Boosted Facebook post for $15 to reach my audience, then emailed my fans list.
The idea is, rather than JUST sending them to BookFunnel for them to download it, I send them to my site; they share a link to my site to download the sample chapters, so they’re sharing my page with all their friends and I get more links to my content.

I also set up a Gleam giveaway to encourage sharing of this Tweet (I gave away a print copy and a mermaid blanket). Got nearly 500 retweets. I also had a “follow me on amazon” and “follow me on bookbub” option (with Gleam you can set multiple methods of entry, including buying the book – that’s fine as long as there are also free options, no purchase necessary).



1/21 – just barely made my preorder deadline, uploaded book with four hours to spare. Didn’t include the “epilogue” but left a link for them to find it on my site (still have 3 days to finish and add it there). Some people got pissed off, but mostly people were fine.

I didn’t have a print copy, because there are still a lot of little things I wanted to fix and correct first, but the basic story is there. The last paragraph was weak, but it is what it is. I was out of time.


I was thinking about just uploading the full book over the previous half-book that had been on permafree and already had 300+ reviews… I *probably* should have done that, but decided to publish it as a new project.

1/24… finished my edits. Rewrote the last paragraph and epilogue.

Emailed it to my list, ARC – share to unlock again. With a note, appreciating reviews if you liked it – but letting them know I *might* move the file and just updated part one with the full book.

I didn’t ask anyone to share it. I didn’t promote it on social media, nothing. I wanted to see what the “resting rank” is compared to part one; I changed part one to 99cents and had the new book at 99cents for a few days, I wanted to see which one would perform better.

I uploaded the full book to Bookfunnel. Emailed my list to say:

  • book is done. 100 people can grab a free copy now.
  • if you preordered, you won’t get the full book and need to get the epilogue still
  • book will be free next week.

I got 309 preorders.

Rank doesn’t drop on launch after preorder so I knew I had to wait a couple days to see what’s up.

Now it’s ranked around 5000. I did a small post on Gacebook saying I was happy to be done and dropping the link, but still not promoting. Wanted to see if rank will stick lower… probably not I’m guessing.

Did my free days; free book shot up to 194 in free store.
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)



For the first week, the new book was hovering under 4000. If my rank sticks there with no promotion, that’s a huge win. So my cover + description is working well, attracting and converting. 

So, new book is sticking around 5,000, old book is around 8K.

I fixed the description for both to make them convert better.

I decided to keep both, so changed part one to 99 cents and part 2 to 2.99


Edit: several weeks later, the 2.99 book is sticking around 10,000… the 99cent book has gone WAY down, but maybe because I’m using the same description for both.

I did some cheap fiverr promos to post in facebook groups.

Mentioned both books in a big email campaign I sent out about something else entirely (to my non-fiction list, which I don’t usually tell about my fiction).

I set up some ads on Facebook, Bookbub and Amazon.

Those didn’t make a big dent, but ads are all about testing.

I really should have been testing these longterm, to figure out which keywords convert the best and make sure my click through/ purchase rate is high, THEN spent lots of money on ads. But oh well – this was kind of the last push.

  • Bookbub ads – $50 for 18 clicks.
  • Amazon ads – tried to spend $50 a day but Amazon wouldn’t take my money… Amazon ads work well but I’m still learning more about them, I’ll write a new separate post with what I’ve learned, but this first test didn’t work.
  • Facebook – $30, total waste. 3 clicks, 1 like (because I did a boosted post I think, rather than paying for clicks like I should have done).

I got the rank down to 3300 in paid with my ads, then got it down to 1780 in paid at 99 ents, on the 12th. Going to leave it at 99cents for a while.

What I SHOULD have done is “ad-stacking” – advertising on all these sites for a 99cent promo on the same day:

  • fussy librarian
  • robin reads
  • ENT
  • Book Barbarian
  • Choosy Bookworm

I meant to book these, but I think I only booked Fussy Librarian for March 5th and Robin Reads for March 26th… Ads need to be booked a month or two in advance and I’m not so good at planning that far ahead.

Now what?

So that was actually a long, messy launch. The book has been hanging out around #8000 at $2.99.

Part one, even though it has a lot more reviews, hasn’t done so well at 99cents (which is fine, because it’s kind of weird to have both and I’m phasing out the original. I’ll probably make it permafree again later.)

I think the people looking for “mermaids” can find it, but since it’s actually a dark dramatic epic fantasy, typical mermaid readers probably aren’t my ideal readers; and those people who would like it may be put off by “mermaids” because they’re usually written for young teens. And “mermaids” really just aren’t terribly popular.

If your rank is stuck at a certain place, more promotion probably won’t fix that. You can get up higher for a few days, but it will slip back to its resting rank. I’m pretty happy if my resting rank for this book is #8000, but by figuring out what’s going wrong, I could probably boost that by improving my blurb/description. I’m thinking “mermaids” might be sensationalistic and misleading, maybe I’ll hide that keywords and focus more on selling them on the story.

So that was my half-assed book launch. I did enough things right that the book is earning money, and I didn’t work very hard for it. I should have done more, and if I had more time, I would have. But the important thing is, once you have a “resting rate” you can start improving it.

I’ve been testing Amazon ads; I’ll start testing the description because I know the blurb can be better. If I can get the book to stay above 5,000, for example, that’s probably an extra $1000 in page reads per month. If I fix my current blurb and my ads (better keywords, better sales copy) I can probably keep the book higher and earn more from it.


What I should have done

These are some notes from what I had planned, that I didn’t do but still might.

  • Ad book to Goodreads lists and get fans to vote it up. Goodreads lists show up on first page of Google.
  • Traffic generating sites and posts. How do mermaids have sex. Are mermaids real? Quora question/answer.
  • Seek out instagrammers, booktubers, YA book bloggers who want ARCs and send them a copy. Sign up here, we’ll email you when there are free ARCs. If chosen will ask for your address to send a free book; otherwise will send a limited pre-release ebook version.
  • Keep adding content with keyword anchor links (ie, “young adult mermaid romance“)
  • Organize listtrades and newsletter swaps with other authors (this is really easy since I built the young adult authors alliance – a facebook group with over 1200 YA authors.)


My original plan (about $2000 in ads)

Bookbub – advertise $1000 in one week. 

Day 1 BookBub, Genre Pulse, Booksends, JustKindleBooks, ask David
Day 2 BookZio, eReaderNewsToday, Reading Deals, BookSends, Read Cheaply
Day 3 Bargain Booksy, Booktastik, Books Butterfly, Free Kindle Books and Tips, 7dragons
Day 4 Kindle Nation Daily, Book Gorilla, eBookSoda, Many Books
Day 5 Reading Deals, Book Lemur, GenreCrave Spotlight
Day 6 The Fussy Librarian, Robin Reads, Book Barbarian

Day 7 Awesome Book Promotion and Author Ad Network

Others that can be included:  Paranormal and UF Bargains, I Love Vampire Novels, eBookHounds, eBookBetty, Book Raid, My Book, Cave, Books with a Groove, Book Reader Magazine, eReaderIQ, GenreCrave Mega Book Blast


That plan would have worked wonders, and I’ll probably do that for future launches when I can get my shit together – I just lost preorders for a year (my second time doing that), but that means I can slow down and finish the book before I put it up for sale, and organize my launches better rather than it being a last minute scramble.


Final notes and wrap-up

Shearwater isn’t doing that well – it’s sticking around the 10K mark on Amazon (which isn’t terrible) but I thought it would do better. I think part of it is that mermaids just aren’t that popular; it turns a lot of readers off. I also think having the 99cent half book and the full book with the same description is killing me (Amazon has to choose which to promote).

I’ll probably make the first half book permafree again and change the description. My original plan of just uploading the full book over the original permafree book and charging for it probably would have worked better – maybe I’ll still do that.

My other book, Scarlet Thread, is earning way more and sticking at around #1200 in the paid store; a combination of genre, demand, tighter blurb, and possibly more history (in that case, I replaced the permafree book with an updated paid book, and it’s sticking really well – so that’s the strategy I’ll probably keep using).

Like I said, this is a huge, messy, case-study post and not necessarily what you should do when you launch your books… still I hope it’s been useful to see my “behind-the-scenes.”

UPDATE: Read part Two of the Shearwater book launch


Good luck with your book launch!

PS) I’m going to be helping a handful of authors build their platform and market their books in my next course launch. It’ll be the only way to get personal help from me on your book marketing. If that sounds interesting, make sure you sign up to my email list so you’ll know when it’s ready – spots will be limited!


  • Cory Reynolds Posted

    Thanks for sharing, this will be one of my go-to articles this year. It would have been interesting to see if you had followed the original plan as you wrote it. It’s good to hear a little of what you did differently for Scarlet Thread that worked. After 2017, you could do a chart showing the different strategies that you did for each book, and compare what seemed to work the best.

  • James King Posted

    Very helpful Derek. It’s good to show what you did wrong as well as right. By the way what is an Amazon orange sticker?

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *