Author Topic: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List  (Read 4397 times)  

Offline Nicholas Erik

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Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
« on: February 08, 2018, 06:55:32 pm »
First of all, this owes a debt to these threads: C. Gockel's + Post Run Analysis, Michael Ploof's, Angela Quarles's, T.A. Grey's

This information is still relevant, and the core bones of the strategy I used. My run was more expensive than those (such is the reality of book advertising in 2018), but I still turned a profit. Anyway, I thought a guide would be helpful for those who didn't have time to read 20+ pages of forum posts, or have concerns that the info might not be relevant in 2018 (it is; I just used it, but I know people are anxious about potentially dropping $2k on three year old info). So I distilled everything into a 3,000 word guide. I'd copy and paste it here, but eradicating those little "?" marks drives me bananas, and it has a ton of bullet points that translate poorly to the forums.

And thanks to anyone who answered my questions, and to the creators of those past threads who provided the blueprint for my run.

Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List


Nick
« Last Edit: October 11, 2018, 11:34:50 pm by Nicholas Erik »

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    Offline NoCat

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #1 on: February 08, 2018, 07:02:32 pm »
    Congrats!

    Time of year also helps, btw. Less than 6k sales counting toward the list would not list most likely in busier release months, so timing there is key, too.

    Offline Patty Jansen

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #2 on: February 08, 2018, 07:05:37 pm »
    IMO it all stands or falls with how big your Bookbub ends up being, which is a vagary outside your control. Also where your readers are. I missed out on USAT last year with 10k sales because half of them were in the UK.

    Bookbub is the elephant in the room, and it could end up being a small elephant, or a big elephant, and you can't do a single thing about it.

    Offline Anarchist

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #3 on: February 08, 2018, 07:40:08 pm »
    Nice work, Nick.

    And great write-up. Thanks for taking the time to do it.
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    Offline Nicholas Erik

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #4 on: February 08, 2018, 07:57:35 pm »
    Congrats!

    Time of year also helps, btw. Less than 6k sales counting toward the list would not list most likely in busier release months, so timing there is key, too.

    Thanks! Yeah, I mentioned that in the full-length guide, but it needed to be emphasized more, so I added a few more lines. Time of year is a critical factor. I was surprised to hit 101, which seems high, even if you assume all the Kobo/iBooks sales were in the US and reported (that would've put me at 6,928).

    IMO it all stands or falls with how big your Bookbub ends up being, which is a vagary outside your control. Also where your readers are. I missed out on USAT last year with 10k sales because half of them were in the UK.

    Bookbub is the elephant in the room, and it could end up being a small elephant, or a big elephant, and you can't do a single thing about it.

    There are no guarantees in indie publishing, obviously, but there are best practices and ways to tilt the probabilities in your favor. That's all this is about. You can absolutely maximize the impact of your BookBub and boost the tail through a well-designed promo stack; I have enough data over 18 runs comparing the two that it's clear stacking prior to the BB outperforms just letting the BB go off by itself, on both a sales and ROI basis. Most of the time, that pre-stack means booking the other heavy hitters (ENT, Robin Reads, FreeBooksy, if it's a free book) and maybe a couple others, and then leaving things alone. In this case, I went all out with 20 sites, and it did have a bigger impact than when I usually keep things small, although that meant I sacrificed a decent slice of ROI in the pursuit of sales.

    I also got a minimum of 1200 sales (1150 US) from sources outside BookBub. Probably more, since that's just counting the two days before the BookBub. That 1150 alone likely put me over the top. So BookBub is clearly a huge piece (and you can hit the list with it alone), but to maximize your chances of hitting, the other sites and elements are critical. I wouldn't have hit without them.

    Nice work, Nick.

    And great write-up. Thanks for taking the time to do it.

    Cheers! Appreciate the kind words.

    Nick

    Offline Jim Johnson

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #5 on: February 08, 2018, 08:23:50 pm »
    Congrats, Nick. Thanks for the information. I can't see myself bothering with it, but it'll be a good data point to direct newbies to.

    Offline jlstovall4

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #6 on: February 09, 2018, 02:52:24 am »
    Thanks for the info. I'm too small right now to use it, but I'm bookmarking. Maybe once I actually get three to four books out, I can give it a try.  :P

    Offline 98368

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #7 on: February 09, 2018, 06:40:30 am »
    First, congratulations, Nick. And second, thank you so much for this posting. It's extremely helpful and encouraging.

    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #8 on: February 09, 2018, 12:02:10 pm »
    Nick, you are the best! Will definitely use this guide for my next BB (assuming I get another 99-cent one)...

    Offline VirginiaMcClain

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #9 on: February 09, 2018, 12:25:14 pm »
    Congrats! And thank you! This is great to see. Definitely bookmarking this thread for future use.
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    Offline C. Gockel

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #10 on: February 09, 2018, 02:55:55 pm »
    Congrats! It does make future BookBub's on the box set more certain (I think, anyway!)


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    Offline VLH

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #11 on: February 09, 2018, 07:40:04 pm »
    Thanks for all the great info, Nick. I've got my first BookBub on the 19th of this month, so your post couldn't have come at a better time. I've stacked ads where I could (I just found out on the 7th they had chosen my boxed set), and I'm in the process of reaching out to all the authors I do mailing list swaps with for an extra bump. Facebook has been really hit or miss for me - great for mailing list sign ups, not so great for sales - but I'll run some ads anyway. I'll try to make the USAT list, we'll see what happens, lol. Thanks again!

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    Offline Michael John Grist

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #12 on: February 10, 2018, 05:16:18 am »
    Fantastic, thank you Nick, always such useful stuff!!

    I did a promo stack for a new release, 99 cent, recently (2 months ago), very similar to this but absent Bookbub. I spent some $1200 on all best ad sites and a good chunk on PPC, earned 1000 sales and around 300,000 reads so far, so well into profit. Good to know the leap to USA Today might not be that far away!!

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    Offline Eskimo

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #13 on: February 10, 2018, 07:06:08 am »
    Thanks Nick, congratulations, very happy for you. Great info there.

    I am in the middle of a USA Today run as well this week for my first Box Set, and I've used a similar strategy -- and getting similar results. You have a much bigger mailing list (mine is only about 900) and you used PPC more extensively. I spent about $250 on Amazon AMS, but was having lots of trouble with Facebook and eventually abandoned it -- they said the ad was approved yet I was getting zero reach. My larger concern though was my BB feature ran Thursday, it's luck of the draw there, but so far I've gotten a terrific response over the Thurs-Fri threshold.

    Question for you Nick (or anyone who might know this) -- did you use D2D or work directly with B&N, Apple and Kobo? I don't believe I can see if D2D breaks out US vs International, it appears to be lumped together. I can see it for Amazon and Google, but that's only because I've gone direct with those two. Is there any way to do this on D2D?

    I did have a hiccup on my BB day when I learned Amazon discounted the price and converted the $0.99 in every country -- except the UK. I double-checked all the retailers the day before and the price had been reduced everywhere in the US, but I did not think I needed to check each country. Got a gut-wrenching wake-up surprise on Thursday when I learned I would not be part of the BB UK mailer. Even though I manually went in and immediately fixed the Amazon UK price -- and called Amazon at 6:00 am PST to plead for help in expediting the change -- it still took them 4 hours to get it right.

    This won't affect my USA Today run, but it did cause me to lose a lot of UK sales. Amazon made the mistake, but I paid the price and I recognize we can't  assume things will always work as they should. Lesson learned. Next time I check EVERYTHING.

    Offline Norman Steele Taylor

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #14 on: February 10, 2018, 02:19:37 pm »
    Congrats. You should also look into getting interviewed on different media platforms.


    Offline Nicholas Erik

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #15 on: February 10, 2018, 04:55:47 pm »
    Glad it was helpful, everyone.

    Thanks for all the great info, Nick. I've got my first BookBub on the 19th of this month, so your post couldn't have come at a better time. I've stacked ads where I could (I just found out on the 7th they had chosen my boxed set), and I'm in the process of reaching out to all the authors I do mailing list swaps with for an extra bump. Facebook has been really hit or miss for me - great for mailing list sign ups, not so great for sales - but I'll run some ads anyway. I'll try to make the USAT list, we'll see what happens, lol. Thanks again!

    Since your BookBub is on Monday, you have to decide between the pre-BB boost from a promo stack on Sat/Sun - which won't count toward your numbers - or putting the promo sites after the BB to get an extra 500 - 1000 sales counting toward the list. Check out Michael Ploof's thread at the top to see how he structured his - his BB was on Monday, too. You might not even need that many other sites, because the tail over the week could do the work. Definitely make sure you change your price before the weekend, especially on other retailers - Barnes and Noble doesn't push price updates through over the weekend.

    I might split the difference: schedule a few sites for Sunday for a ranking boost (which should also help prolong/boost the tail), then schedule the majority of them during Tuesday/Wednesday etc., to bank the sales toward the list #s.

    My larger concern though was my BB feature ran Thursday, it's luck of the draw there, but so far I've gotten a terrific response over the Thurs-Fri threshold.

    Question for you Nick (or anyone who might know this) -- did you use D2D or work directly with B&N, Apple and Kobo? I don't believe I can see if D2D breaks out US vs International, it appears to be lumped together. I can see it for Amazon and Google, but that's only because I've gone direct with those two. Is there any way to do this on D2D?

    I did have a hiccup on my BB day when I learned Amazon discounted the price and converted the $0.99 in every country -- except the UK.

    You should be fine with Thursday; I think at least one of the threads above had a Thursday BookBub. Sucks about the price change not going through in the UK. I always check the regional prices at least twice, usually three times before any BookBub. Also, if you're on D2D, always make sure you set the regional pricing manually - things like Australia default to $1.99, I believe, when you enter $0.99 for the US price.

    I actually asked the same question about D2D last week, since I use it to go wide. No one really had a definitive answer then, but I do now: there's no way to break out the US vs. International sales on D2D. That means your iBooks and Kobo sales are a combination of US and other regions. Barnes and Noble, however, only exists in the US (online for eBook purposes, that is), so all those sales are from the USA. If you have 500+ on B + N, you're good to go. I had 500+ there, and on iBooks, but I couldn't count on the ones from iBooks all being from the US. I've heard, but can't confirm, that iBooks only requires 250+ to report, however.

    Anyway, good luck with the run, David, and let us know how it goes.

    Nick

    Offline VLH

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #16 on: February 11, 2018, 06:54:21 am »
    Sucks about the price change not going through in the UK. I always check the regional prices at least twice, usually three times before any BookBub. Also, if you're on D2D, always make sure you set the regional pricing manually - things like Australia default to $1.99, I believe, when you enter $0.99 for the US price.

    Is that price okay on the day of the BB? Or does it literally have to be $0.99 in every region?

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    Offline Nicholas Erik

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #17 on: February 11, 2018, 01:35:54 pm »
    Is that price okay on the day of the BB? Or does it literally have to be $0.99 in every region?

    It has to be whatever price you told BookBub it would be. Or lower. If it's higher, they won't run the deal.

    So if you told them it'd be $0.99 in Australia on all retailers, but it's $1.99 AU on Nook, iBooks and Kobo, those retailers in that specific region would be excluded from the deal.

    Nick

    Offline Nicholas Erik

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #18 on: February 14, 2018, 10:59:23 pm »
    Saw you hit #92 on the USAT list this week, David. Congrats!

    Nick

    Offline Eskimo

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #19 on: February 15, 2018, 07:13:16 am »
    Saw you hit #92 on the USAT list this week, David. Congrats!

    Nick

    Thank you Nick -- I am floating on a cloud right now!!!

    Offline LindsayBuroker

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #20 on: February 15, 2018, 12:11:00 pm »
    The only time I've managed this (outside of multi-author things) was with an epic fantasy boxed set at 99 cents. It outperformed any of the other Bookbubs I've had, and it was in January when it only took about 6500 sales to hit the USA Today list. I didn't stack any other ads. I've tried a couple of times since then to hit with stacking ads and a Bookbub and nada, heh. (But I've never spent anywhere near $2K on the attempt.) I've actually come a lot closer to doing it again with solo later-in-the-series titles and a pre-order. If I just had the patience to let those pre-orders run for the whole three months. :P

    Your mileage may vary, of course. I write SF/F and don't typically see the huge Bookbub numbers that some of the more popular genres post. I suspect people make it in romance all the time just with a Bookbub.

    Offline olgawerby

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #21 on: February 15, 2018, 02:00:23 pm »
    Hi Nick,

    Thank you for a very detailed summary of your marketing campaign -- very helpful to newbie indie authors like me. (and thank you Lindsay Buroker for Tweeting about it).

    That said, is there a dictionary list for the abbreviated terms for those of us who are completely clueless? I actually read your post on http://nicholaserik.com/usa-today-bestseller-mini-guide/ and created an account on kboards just so I can ask you!

    1. PPC Ads = Pay Per Click? CPC = Cost Per Click? Just checking (did say I was very new to this, but have 8 books published and two more on the way)

    2. You say you listed your book in a "fantasy" category: "My BookBub was in Fantasy. Urban Fantasy is often run in the Supernatural Suspense category, which is much smaller. This was a big help." What was the help? That you ran in a bigger category? Is it better to be in a smaller or bigger category? It seems it would be easier to get to the top of smaller than bigger... Again, I think Lindsay Buroker discussed on her site a few months ago (years?) that it was better to find a narrow nitch. But wouldn't that limit the audience potential?

    3. The list of sites you used is obviously dependent on genre, right? Would a different "stack" be necessary for scifi? Please, scifi authors out here, share your wisdom!

    4. You talk of "merchandising opportunities" -- can you expand on that?

    5. I'm a pretty accomplished technologist and don't require the services of https://www.draft2digital.com/ . Are you saying that D2D do more than just format?

    6. I agree about pitchforks and eye-rolls -- like liberals, writers like to eat their own. I feel we all rise as a tide. Readers that hunger for stories want to learn what's out there. And not all of us are very social by nature... Sorry, this was not an actual question...

    7. How long did it take you to plan out this massive campaign?

    8. Did your other books benefit from this marketing?

    9. Did you get additional reviews? It was my understanding that Amazon won't engage with promoting a book until it reaches 50 reader reviews -- do you know if this is true? If true, would mounting the whole promotional campaign be premature until the book gets 50 reviews?

    Sorry to burden you with all these questions. Please answer what you can. I've been writing for many years, but self-promotion is just not in my nature. I realize that I have to change and make a push, but it is a scary and hard thing to do.

    Thank you all!

    Olga





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    Offline Nicholas Erik

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #22 on: February 15, 2018, 03:33:42 pm »
    Thanks for the retweet, Lindsay. I think you're right that with your platform, you could probably hit the list with a long pre-order, but if you already have the letters, it's kind of a why bother situation.

    To answer your questions, Olga:

    Yes, PPC stands for pay per click and CPC stands for cost per click.

    The Fantasy category on BookBub has many more subscribers than the Supernatural Suspense category. For a promo site, which BookBub is (just a huge one), more subscribers in a category almost always means more sales. So it's better for your BookBub to run in the biggest category possible. As for writing the book itself and choosing a niche, that's another matter entirely. This series is in a smaller niche - urban fantasy - that's a part of the larger fantasy category.

    I write sci-fi, too. All the sites work with sci-fi, with the exception of maybe Shifted Sheets, which was originally for Romance/PNR/UF. I think they accept everything, now, though. I wouldn't use most of the sites, or the packages listed, for a regular promo run, however. You won't make money. These are the promo sites I recommend under normal circumstances: http://nicholaserik.com/promo-sites/

    Merchandising is just getting placement on prominent pages in a store. Retailers like iBooks run "First in Free" promos, for example, which advertise free books. You can contact D2D to be considered for such promotions.

    Draft2Digital is an aggregator which submits your book to a number of retailers at once. Instead of managing a half dozen additional dashboards (which means you have to upload your file/blurb to each one), you just upload it to D2D and it's done. You check your sales in one place and manage everything from one location. They take around 10% for that.

    Planning this took a couple days. Maybe four or five hours to come up with a strategy and then schedule everything. I've done this a lot, and had most of the PPC ads designed already, so it would take longer for someone coming in cold.

    There has been minor sales spillover to a trilogy set in the same world with some of the same characters, although not much. Basically none to my new urban fantasy book (new world/new character). A few dozen email list sign-ups.

    50 reviews is a myth. Amazon has no review requirement to start promoting books. I had 14 reviews at the start of the week. People have hit USAT with a book that had zero reviews at the start of its run. I got two additional reviews thus far (one positive, one negative), and got seven from my readers during the week of the run, since I asked them specifically. It has 24 reviews right now. You typically get far fewer reviews on box sets at $0.99 than you do for single books, just because it's a bigger ask for someone to read all three novels. Two is a little low for 8,000 copies, though (5,000 on Amazon US). I'd expect more. This low of a number suggests that few readers are getting through it, which isn't what you want.

    If you need reviews, there are ways to get them before promoting. Read this guide: http://nicholaserik.com/book-review-mini-guide/

    Nick
    « Last Edit: February 15, 2018, 03:36:56 pm by Nicholas Erik »

    Offline olgawerby

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    Re: Mini Guide: How to Hit the USA Today Bestseller List
    « Reply #23 on: August 01, 2018, 09:55:58 am »
    Thank you all for your responses (especially Nick for an explanation of how to do a "run"). I just saw that I got some responses! I know -- lame. But I'm new to this and hope to do better! Thank you all!



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