The 3 Rs of launching an indie book: Readers, Reviews, and Royalties
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 in books by two book marketing professionals —Ricardo Fayet and David Gaughran.
A big part of this logical conclusion is based on information from Gaughran explaining the inner workings of Amazon, part of which is in my Oct. 30 blog post. So, what are the steps involved in a book launch to help get more readers and reviews that lead to royalties? The marketing folks at Reedsy (founded by Fayet) have a detailed online discussion of six key steps:
Launch your book with a price promotion.
Have reader reviews ready to go.
Announce your book launch.
Schedule features on book promotion sites.
Use ads to promote your book launch.
Get all your ducks in a row with a book launch checklist (a free download available in the online Reedsy discussion).
AuthorImprints, owned by digital publishing professional David Wogahn, offers a free online course about self-publishing and the countdown to book launch. Another perspective about book launches comes from book marketing professional Tim Grahl. He charges megabucks to manage book launches for big-name clients but offers free webinars to other authors and has a blog post with an overview of his launch methods. He also has screenshots to show that the launches helped clients achieve bestseller status on lists of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Personal perspectives: During the past few months, three indie writers have asked my advice about launching books. I gave the same advice to all of them based on information and insights from Fayet and Gaughran and Grahl and Wogahn, and the checklist from Reedsy (plus some of my personal experiences):
WEEKS BEFORE the planned launch date for the Kindle version, concentrate on distributing ARCs to people who are likely to post reviews on Amazon. Push them to post their reviews as soon as Amazon makes the Kindle version available for pre-order. You should try for at least 20 reviews in the first few days, so you may need to nudge people by email. Then call them. Sometimes, begging works.
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.
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 a special price to reward your faithful followers. Send personal emails. Promote the launch in your newsletter and blog and feature the new book on your website. This is a key part of Grahl’s approach: “If you upload your book to Amazon but then never tell anyone, you haven’t launched a book. However, if you start trying to get people to pre-order your book a month before it comes out, you’re running a book launch.”
Post the pre-order promo on your Facebook author page and in FB groups, and use a shortened URL link that allows you to track how many people click the link to go to the book on Amazon. But don’t rely on free FB posts because the organic reach has decreased to about 1 percent of followers (e.g, only 50 of your 5,000 followers might see the free post), and likes and comments don’t produce paid downloads.
Use your FB ad account to boost the post with the shortened link for at least seven days to at least 1-million people in your target demographic audience. A 1 percent reach would be 10,000 people who see the boosted post, 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 at the full price to earn bigger royalties from people who prefer paperbacks, especially for gifts. Some authors use the same release date for both versions and that’s fine.
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.
How has the anthology performed over time with readers and reviews? During the July 2015 launch, 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. During the past six years, it has consistently ranked in the top 200 in the Mexico Travel category and has attracted more than 70 reader reviews. But during 2021, it has slipped to about #1,000,000 in the overall Amazon sales rankings and 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 don’t know if delaying the publication of the print version a couple of months hurt its sales. I believe the primary reason the Kindle version continues to attract more readers and produce more royalties is that Amazon KDP Select makes it easy to run quarterly price discount promotions for four or five consecutive days.