Launching Bestsellers on Amazon Part 2: Structure of a Launch
In part one of this series, we broke down the primary components of Amazon's book ranking algorithm.
Now that we know the puzzle pieces to Amazon's ranking system, we need to dig in and assemble them in the correct order.
One of the most common mistakes is for a new author to do the correct steps out of sequence and watch their book take a nosedive in week 2.
It happened to me with my first book and I was baffled. I had done everything right, but I still watched my book drop from top of the category into the mists of time.
Should You Pre-Launch?
The first question everyone asks is if they should do a pre-launch. I'm personally not a fan of this method, as it requires you to be super switched on with an audience that will jump in and leave reviews on launch day.
To do a prelaunch, you have to send out loads of Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) and get people to leave reviews when your book is available for general release.
The problem is that these are all unverified reviews – unless you ask people to buy the book, wait a few days and then leave a review. I consider this risk, because if they scroll through the book they already read too fast it can trip the “read to fast” flag and the review will get ghosted at best.
If you have a loyal following, a great VA, or are just super switched on with your launch, it's possible to make this work.
But if you are late on delivering the book, Amazon blocks you from pre-launches for a year. Amazon banned me from pre-releases for a year myself because I made a mistake. I uploaded the book on time, but I didn't click a button that said it was a “final” version.
It's not a big deal, but I don't launch via the prelaunch method myself.
It's an alternative, but my method is the soft launch.
Phase One – Get Those Reviews
Upload the ebook edition of your book and list it at ninety-nine cents for 1-2 weeks.
This gives you a window to focus on getting initial reviews. There are also a load of other benefits to the soft launch.
It takes six weeks for Amazon to approve and release an audiobook through the ACX platform. You can't post your book on ACX until it's live. So the moment my book is on Amazon, I create a listing on ACX looking for a reader.
It can also take up to three days for an ebook and paperback listing to merge. This may change as I believe Amazon will soon shutter CreateSpace and move all their physical printing to the KDP dashboard.
This change may lead to faster listing merging, but it might not.
If you create a hardback version, it can take a few days to appear on Amazon as well.
You can't start modifying your Author Central page until you have a live book, so this is a great time to work on that as well.
All of this time means that when you are pushing the big launch, your page is as ready as it will ever be. Here are more tips on improving your book sales page -> Serve No Master Podcast episode 118: How to Improve a Book Listing.
There are loads of techniques for getting reviews and I can't recommend going all out enough.
Here are some methods to get reviews.
- Email your mailing list
- Share with your social media following
- Run a contest on LibraryThing
- Email Amazon reviewers using BookReviewTargeter software
- Run a KingSumo contest
- Ask for reviews at the end of your book
- Add in a review request to your initial email sequence for buyers
I cover even more ways to get reviews in Serve No Master Podcast episode 48: Getting Book Reviews.
Your friends and family will not leave you reviews. If you ask thirty of the people who love you the most, you will be lucky to get one review.
Then your feelings are hurt and it puts everyone in an awkward situation.
Plus it's a violation of Amazon's terms of service, so if they catch you the reviews will get ghosted anyways.
During this soft launch phase, everything in your life should be focused on getting reviews. Track every single free copy you send with spreadsheets. Follow up with readers and get them to post those reviews.
You can create a custom link that takes people straight to your book review page.
This link takes you straight to the review page for my book Serve No Master, even if you haven't purchased or read it.
Once your book is live, Amazon will assign your book an ASIN. This is their internal catalog numbering system.
My ASIN is B01HVY28L6. Just replace that with the ASIN of your book and the link will work for you.
Make it EASY for people to leave you reviews. I use a WordPress plugin called Pretty Link to create a shortened link that's even easier to send to people and share in the back of my book.
I don't want them to have to visit the listing page and click three or four times just to leave a review.
Lower the barrier and more people will leave reviews.
Phase Two – Give Your Book Away
If you enroll your book in KDP select, you get some critical benefits. There is a debate on whether to launch a book exclusive or Wide. I recommend launching your book exclusive for at least the first ninety days. Then you can choose to go wide if you want.
When you are in KDP Select you get 5 promo days per 90-day cycle, you are eligible for Amazon special programs and you get preferred treatment.
Unless your book is killing it, only the promo days really matter. There are two types of promos – free days and countdown deals. I only use free days.
Create a week where your book will be free.
On day one, you need your ducks in a row. Your listing should have multiple versions and at LEAST seven good reviews. I prefer twenty, but seven is the absolute bare minimum for getting conversions.
This day Amazon is asking the world a question, “Will people take this book if it's free?”
We are using factors one and two from part one of this series.
Before we test paid conversions, you need to prove that your book can get traction if it's free.
It sounds crazy, but there are tons of free books on Amazon that nobody will touch with a ten-foot pole. If your book cover stinks, your description is in broken English, or you have bad reviews, you won't get past this test.
In addition, this is where you show Amazon that you can generate traffic.
For this day, beg, borrow and buy as much traffic as you can get your hands on. You want to generate sales MOMENTUM.
This is a critical term.
Momentum is very important. Increased sales each day for a week are far better than a massive sales spike for one day and then a die-off.
In the past, you could just pump traffic for one day and launch to the stars, but these days it's better to spread a lunch over a five-day window.
For each day, you want to generate an increasing number of sales.
There are loads of free traffic sellers, ranging from vendors on Fiverr to BookBub who charges hundreds of dollars to get into their email blasts
Loads of people join these sites to get notified of free books every day.
For a big list of sites that will send traffic on your free and discounted days, please check out Announcing Your Free Kindle Promotion Days
Each day of the week, push a larger amount of traffic so that by Day Five you are peaked.
Phase Three – Discount Your Book
There are a few ways of transitioning your book from free to paid and each of these works just fine. Find the one that feels right to you and you'll be golden.
In the past, I would run a one-day free promo and then list a book at ninety-nine cents. On the free promo day around 5PM EST, I would end the promo early and change the price.
Ending the promo early is really important because Amazon uses a bad clock. Everything on Amazon is run on Pacific Time.
NEVER FORGET THIS.
People who aren't serious about timezones can get hit with a brutal surprise.
I don't want that to happen to you.
Amazon updates their product rankings every three hours and they run their days on California time.
If you run a promo day, it will end at midnight – that's 3 AM Eastern time.
Your book switches from the free to the paid category. You might be the #1 free book in your category, or even on all of Amazon.
When your book switches, the rules change.
They are now looking to see how many sales you can get. The free rankings lose importance with each rankings update.
So it's 3 AM in New York. At 6 AM, Amazon updates your rank in the paid categories. Your rank will drop like a stone. How many people are buying books from 3-6AM?
Then another kick in the teeth comes in at 9 AM. People are on their way to work and you won't have many sales if any. It's just a bad time of day.
You go through 2 ranking updates at the absolute worst time of day if you let your promo end naturally. Your momentum will crash and your ranking will fall off a cliff.
Some promo sites don't let you end early. If you buy an email drop from someone, check their terms. Most of them send out their emails at 9 AM PST.
Some will let you change the book that afternoon and some won't. Don't violate their terms. If it's not allowed, it's not allowed.
Here is why we want to price your book at 99 cents. Some people don't check their personal email until after work.
Imagine Harry gets an email at 9 AM saying your book is free. He comes home from work around 5PM, sees that email and decides it sounds pretty cool. So he clicks the link and heads over to Amazon.
If your book is still free, great he'll grab it.
If your book is $9.99, he's going to be disappointed that he missed the sale, but he'll get over it.
If your book is on sale at $.99, however, he still might pull the trigger. He missed the free window, but at least the book is on sale.
Not everyone will pay a buck for a book they wanted for free, but SOME will. And this generates momentum.
It's time to answer Amazon's second question, “People will take the book if you give it away, but will they pay for it?”
I usually keep a book discounted for forty-eight hours. This is enough time for all the stragglers to open up those emails you paid for.
Additionally, I will buy traffic for this day. Plenty of vendors sell traffic on free days, but there are also loads who sell traffic on discount days.
Instead of asking my friends and family to leave reviews, because I know they won't, this is the day where I ask them for a favor.
I want to generate as many sales in this window as possible.
I will also start activating Amazon Ad campaigns at this point (more on that in a moment.)
Phase Four – Strike it Rich
The final phase of your launch is when your book is full price and you have some of that momentum going.
It's possible that your book will maintain ranking because of SEO. You have done everything the Amazon Algorithm wanted of you and proven yourself worthy.
The problem is that every day new books come out with new marketing budgets and Amazon is a fickle master.
“What have you done for me lately?”
I have had books hang in the #1 spot in a category for as long as 18 months, but eventually, the ranking drops and sales slow down.
When your book drops below the top 30,000 on Amazon, you better take action or your listing will die.
A few bad sales days are all it takes to kill your momentum.
When this happens, just rinse and repeat steps 2 and 3.
Pump a bunch of external traffic and your ranking should bounce up.
These days I spend most of my advertising budget on Amazon ads rather than email drops. Once I've completed a launch, I give Amazon as much money as they will take.
Depending on your series length or backend funnel sophistication, you might have a deep or shallow ads budget.
You can get in for just $3-5 a day.
I will cover Amazon Ads extensively in part three of this series, so stay tuned 😉