Can you sell 10,000 books in 8 months?
Updated: Apr 24
One of the best ways indie authors can achieve a successful book launch on Amazon is by focusing on the 3 Rs in this order: Readers, Reviews, and Royalties. That’s a logical conclusion based on information from three book marketing professionals — Tim Grahl, David Gaughran, and Ricardo Fayet.
So, what are the steps involved in a book launch to help get more readers and reviews that lead to royalties?
Some of the most detailed information about book launches comes from Grahl. He charges megabucks to manage book launches for clients but offers free webinars and has a blog post with an overview of his launch methods.
I participated in a 90-minute webinar with Grahl on April 21 in which he discussed in detail how he helped first-time author Michael McClellan sell more than 10,000 copies in 8 months for a work of historical fiction released in June of 2020.
McClellan was unknown as an author — no previous published fiction, no blog, no email list, and fewer than 200 followers on Twitter and Instagram personal accounts. He and Grahl worked together for months before the official release date, focusing on two primary goals:
Create an initial fan base by building an email list and sending free advance digital copies of the book to people to read and post reviews online as soon as the book was available for sale. When McClellan’s book was officially released for purchase, it received almost 250 favorable reviews in the first 24 hours.
Expand the fan base by using paid promo sites to offer a 99-cent Kindle promo to sell as many copies as possible in a short time. This surge in sales rankings stimulated Amazon algorithms to promote the book. McClellan repeated the 99-cent price promo every 90 days and the book had sold 13,353 copies at the one-year mark. Now, the book has more than 1,600 reviews.
Note: Predictably, sales for McClellan’s book have declined since the book launched in June of 2020 in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The overall Amazon sales ranking on April 22 was #72,545 and #600 in the niche category of historical fiction.
For a less detailed overview of book launches, the marketing folks at Reedsy (founded by Fayet) have an online discussion of six key steps.
Personal perspectives: During the past few months, several indie writers have asked my advice about launching books. I’ve given the same advice to all of them based on information and insights from Grahl and Fayet and Gaughran (plus some of my personal experiences).
Only a few writers can afford to hire a book marketing professional such as Grahl. I can’t. But all indie authors can learn from McClellan’s experience and adapt it to fit individual budgets. Here’s what I suggest:
Starting MONTHS BEFORE the release date for the Kindle version, concentrate on distributing advance reader copies to everybody you know who might be likely to post a review on Amazon. Family. Friends. Fellow authors. You could send digital versions of the formatted book using BookFunnel, or send .pdf versions of the formatted version with a watermark saying they are Advance Review Copy (ARCs).
When you set up your book details on Amazon KDP, choose the categories and subcategories that will make the book visible to your target readers. As Gaughran explains in his book, Amazon has about 13,000 categories and subcategories and has a bestseller list for the top 100 sales ranking in each niche. Choosing your categories carefully will help your new release rise dramatically on those bestseller lists.
Schedule a pre-order for the Kindle version and push people to post their reviews as soon as Amazon makes the Kindle version available for pre-order purchase. You should try for at least 20–25 reviews in the first few days, so you may need to nudge people by email. Then call them. (Sometimes, begging works.)
Make the Kindle version of the book available for pre-order at a very attractive price. I prefer 99 cents for the pre-order promotion, which attracts a lot more paid downloads than a full-price launch or even a half-price introductory offer.
Yeah, I know, I know — authors want to earn royalties ASAP to recoup upfront expenses of publishing independently. But, as Gaughran states, the short-term goal is to stimulate the Amazon algorithms to promote your book to likely readers in the same categories and help earn more royalties at the full price. That’s a longer-term goal worth a little patience.
Tell EVERYBODY you know that the book is available for preorder at the special price to reward your faithful followers. Send personal emails. Promote the launch in your newsletter and blog and social media and feature the new book on your website.
Use your Facebook posts and your ad account for at least seven days to promote the release to at least 1-million people in your target demographic audience. A 1 percent reach would be 10,000 people who see the posts and ads, and if only 1 percent of them click to go to Amazon that’s still 100 potential paid downloads.
Publish a print version of the same book to earn royalties from people who prefer paperbacks, especially for gifts. Consider a special introductory price discount for a week to boost sales. Some authors use the same release date for both versions and don’t discount the print version.
Every 90 days thereafter for at least a year, use paid promo sites to offer a 99-cent Kindle price promo.
For a 2015 anthology I helped edit and publish as the project manager, I launched the Kindle version in July with 18 reader reviews the first week and it had 33 total reviews when I published the print version in September. That’s nowhere near what McClellan accomplished, but I didn’t have help from Grahl. (If I knew then what I know now… )
How has the anthology performed over time with readers and reviews? During the July 2015 launch week, the Kindle version reached #1 in the bestseller list for the Mexico Travel category and ranked in the top 100 in the category for General Mexico Travel Guides.
For more than six years, it has consistently ranked in the top 200 in the Mexico Travel category and has attracted more than 70 reader reviews. However, the most recent review was posted in December of 2019.
For royalties, the Kindle version has produced three times as much royalty income from direct sales compared with the print version and the KENP royalties from the Kindle Unlimited program produced more royalties than the paperback direct sales.
I believe the primary reason the Kindle version continues to attract more readers and produce more royalties is that I run quarterly price discount promotions for four or five consecutive days. That’s the same thing Grahl preaches and practices.
Disclaimer: I don’t receive anything for recommending books by Grahl and Fayet and Gaughran. I believe Grahl’s system works, and I urge every indie author to buy his book and begin participating in his free webinars.