How My Novel Became a #1 Bestseller

bestselling author virginia grayGuest Post
by Virginia Gray

My goals in writing The Carrot were that it be seen and read, but after nearly a year of posting, sharing, tweeting and pinning and Google Plussing, hoping to catch a reader’s eye, I found my novel drearily hovering around an Amazon sales rank of 200K (I don’t even want to talk about B&N, Kobo, or iBooks). After perusing some interesting blogs, banging my now concussive head against the social media marketing wall, and discussing strategies with other authors, I decided to do what all major publishers do: pay for advertising.

If you’re a reader, you may know that there are a number of FREE services that will deliver a short list of eBook deals directly to your inbox on a daily basis. Such emails are great if you don’t have time to stroll through the electronic aisles. Authors want to be on these lists!

I first turned to BookBub, the largest of these animals, boasting subscriber numbers of well over a million. To this group, you must apply, and then pray with burnt offerings that they take your very large sum of money for a one-time email blast. Authors have seen amazing results and constantly sing its praises. Even the very deceased Pearl S. Buck bellows from that great library in the sky — yes, you may be competing with dead people. After my third rejection, I was left dejected and frustrated.

There are other sites, my author friends said. Try those. Turns out there are several that offered quite decent reaches for infinitely less money — some are even free. I still had to apply, of course, but their acceptance rate was higher.

So, this is what I did, and I can only describe my experience as a perfect storm. I applied to the five eBook advertising groups listed below: (The figures shown are for Contemporary Romance — a high-volume genre)

  • Read Cheaply (60,000 Subscribers) FREE
  • Ereader News Today (ENT)  (120,000 subscribers) $45 US
  • Bargain Booksy (190,000 subscribers) $50 US *Nice because you can buy a specific date without sweating acceptance
  • Free Kindle Books and Tips (FKBT) (150,000 subscribers + their blog is linked via 2 different Kindle Fire apps, adding potentially 600K more views) $45US
  • The Books Machine (5,000 subscribers and 250K Facebook genre readers) $20US

(You can find these sites and more on Martin Crosbie’s List of Book Promo Sites)

As soon as the first site, Read Cheaply, accepted my submission, I set up a Kindle Countdown Deal at 99 cents, running over a 7-day period, 5/25/2015-6/1/2015. Miraculously, I was then accepted by all the others, each offering dates within my Countdown Deal window. I was ecstatic!

As soon at the countdown deal began (5/25/15 @8:00 pm), I enlisted an army of my nearest and dearest and started a campaign, spreading the word across the social media networks. Sales slowly rose overnight, lifting my overall sales rank to 90,000.

The next morning, Read Cheaply delivered their blast, and bless their souls, The Carrot topped their list! As the day wore on, I continued socially begging and pleading and watched sales increase, moving The Carrot to #10,000 in overall sales!

Thursday was my dry day — no promos. My sales rank continued to climb to 5,000 from after burn and continued social marketing.

Friday was the whopper — two promos. Bargain Booksy started the day, ENT launched around 1:00 pm ET, and it was space shuttle time! Mid-evening, the heavens broke open, sun streamed down in golden beams over my computer, angels sang, and I clenched the #1 spot in Contemporary Urban, scooching USA Today/New York Times bestselling contemporary romance author Jo Raven over to the #2 slot — excuse me, pardon me, very excited person coming through. Next, I slid to #2 in Literary Humor, right beside #1 New York Times bestselling author, Liane Moriarty. About the same time, The Carrot hit #84 in Literary Fiction, and I glanced back at Stephen King and JR Ward and grinned stupidly. #89 in Romantic Comedy came next. I was delirious.

The Carrot ranking

Moments later, the glimmering, orange #1 Best Seller badge appeared on my book’s landing page and tears rolled down my cheeks.

Virginia Gray AUthor Central page

When The Carrot hit an overall Kindle eBook sales rank of #662, I received an Amazon Author ranking — #90 in Literary Fiction. I swooned, passing out on my bed.

FKBT struck Saturday, enabling the book to hold onto its slots, but overnight, things began dropping off, my overall rank fell to #996, and I lost my Amazon Author Ranking. The Kindle Countdown deal ended that night, the price returned to $4.99, and sales dropped like a rock.

The take-home message: with the right amount of advertising, an enormous amount of energy, a group of solid social media friends backing you up, and $160, you can go head-to-head with the likes of HarperCollins, Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc., and sit at the big girl’s table for a while.

I won’t lie. I did not get rich, but I did cover my advertising costs with change to spare and my rankings stayed fairly high for several months. I wish all authors the very best of luck. And readers, PLEASE keep reading! Authors can’t exist without you!!

Amazon Bestselling Author Virginia Gray writes Contemporary Women’s Fiction and Romantic Comedy. A former university professor, she now serves as a columnist for The Inflectionist Magazine. Find out more about her by visiting her website and her Amazon Author Central page.

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28 thoughts on “How My Novel Became a #1 Bestseller”

  1. Your post proves what most indies eventually learn: Promotion is endless and tireless, but must be done. Of course, an author needs a good book as well, and you obviously have one. I think that you had sensational results–and without BookBub! Thanks for sharing your experiences, Virginia.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Virginia. It’s nice to know it CAN be done, altho we’ve all experienced the dreaded fall off the cliff afterwards. We just have to keep at it. I’ve got multiple books, so I run a promo on one or two a month. As you say, I don’t get rich, but it keeps the numbers up at a comfortable level.

    1. Honestly, it’s what publishing companies do. They simply have more money to throw into promotion. I think most every book falls when left to tend for itself.

    1. Thanks. Everyone should screen shot and document. Those lovely badges disappear as soon as your book’s ranking drops, and Amazon doesn’t keep records. I also post my reviews on my website for safe keeping.

  3. Wonderful news. Congrats and thanks for sharing, Virginia. My sales for my current three books have dropped off and is sad to see my ranking (and any income) fade into obscurity. Next month I will release my newest historical romance – The Girl from County Clare – so some timely promotion will be needed.
    Thanks for the links and tips and hopefully I can raise my sales up to a more respectable figure. I will also release second editions of a couple of books two weeks later to ride the wave (I just hope it’s a big enough wave to carry me through.)

    1. The friends I mentioned are all indie authors I visit with on facebook. I posted my promo announcements on my author page and personal fb page and asked people to share and tweet them. That was really it. I will say I am big on reciprocation, and maybe that’s why people were willing to help. It’s really nothing to click “share” for someone.

  4. Thanks, Virginia, for sharing your success and thoughts on promotion. Congratulations on getting all that support and recognition.

    I went to the sites you suggested, but alas, my two books don’t qualify for the free publicity. One because it’s more than $3.99 and the other, because it’s too short. I know I’m being stubborn about the price at a time when most indie authors seem to be giving their books away or discounting significantly. I look at my writing journey and all the time I’ve invested in putting so much love into my story that it bothers me to go that route.

    As for paying for advertising, I did pay Fussy Librarian and it didn’t make any difference in sales. Because of that, I’m reluctant to spend any more money on similar sites.

    For now, I’ll continue to plod along, and do what I can to put the word out without being annoying. A side note: I’m not discouraged. I plan to keep climbing this mountain. All the best.

  5. Virginia, it’s gratifying that you were so successful but financially so disappointing. But that seems to be the name of the game, thanks for posting

    1. It is the name of the game. If you’re interested, you can watch a promo in real time. I’ve booked a campaign with ENT for 10/6. I began my countdown deal yesterday 10/2. My overall ranking was 235K. I sent the countdown deal announcement on fb and twitter last night 10/2 and again this morning 10/3. Several people have kindly shared and retweeted already. Though I haven’t sold a ton of books, my ranking has moved up to 60K. Feel free to check The Carrot’s ranking for the next few days, and then on 10/6 when ENT hits. I’m only using the one promo. We’ll see what happens together!

  6. That was a very entertaining post. *high five* Totally made me smile.
    Question: I didn’t think you could do a Kindle countdown deal if you were on other sites like Kobo, iTunes, etc. I thought that was a Kindle Exclusive.
    Anyway, I always have great luck with ENT. I haven’t tried the others. I keep plugging away at BB, but with their rules (of not having been on sale for the 90 days previous) it’s not likely I’m going to get a coveted .99 anytime soon. I’ve had the free ads before, and those are still a great value.
    Someone reminded me recently to do all ads with a countdown, instead of just lowering the price because you retain 70% of the .99. I can’t believe I wasn’t doing that. It takes a little forethought (the countdown deals can only be done once a cycle) but I was manually setting the price to .99 before my ENT ads. Derrrrr.
    Anyway, best of luck and I just bought your book because if a blog post on ebook marketing can make me laugh, the book must be awesome. 😉

    1. 1. Yes, you do have to be sleeping exclusively with Amazon to use their countdown deal option, but your reach is massive. 2. Thanks so much for reading my book. My goal in life is to make others laugh!

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