For Authors: Preparing for a Bestseller Run.

Dear humans,

On the Book of Faces, the human declared she would share what she’s doing in her attempt to make a bestseller list next week (April 29, 2019 through May 5, 2019.) It is the dream of many authors to make a list. The human has made a list twice as part of a group effort.

She got bumped off the list once during a solo attempt.

For those of you who missed it, here’s what her statement boiled down to, in her words:

While listing is *really* awesome and badass, the point of listing is to reach that many new readers.

Here’s the thing.

Being an award-winning *OR* Bestselling author isn’t going to improve or help your sales.

So, why do it?

As the human pointed out, it’s to reach many new readers. Success varies from person to person, of course. Some people view success as having published a book. And that is an accomplishment.

But the human writes for a living. It is her full-time job. Her ability to keep writing is directly tied to how well of a job she does at reaching new readers–and making her current readers happy with the books she writes.

Some days, she wishes she could have set hours, only work 40 hours a week, and generally have all the perks a salaried person enjoys.

Every facet of her life is influenced by the knowledge her job could end tomorrow because she didn’t write a book people wanted to buy.

Several months ago, the human made a promise to her readers. She promised she would invest into the Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series to keep it alive. The general deal was this: if she could get Burn, Baby, Burn to hit a list, she’d reevaluate her schedule to try to do more than one or maybe two Mag Rom Coms a year moving forward.

Her decision to pull the plug on the series generally upset people.

We understand that. The human? She was upset, too. She watched the series start struggling, the books show up on pirating sites with higher frequency, which only feeds the problem of people not buying the books.

(If people don’t buy the books, the series dies.) Some series she has a set number of books that will, eventually, written–a labor of love.

The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series will become a labor of love. She has plenty of covers to do one or two books a year for fun. But she won’t be relying on them for income, they will be slid in around the books that pay the bills, and so on.

That’s why.

But, the human? She takes her promises seriously, and she promised a genuine and serious effort. She’s been saving every excess penny possible. She talked to the male human, who agreed to risk money from the household savings account.

She has a $20,000 budget to revitalize the series, and she’s playing her cards–all of them–next week.

Yes, that’s a huge fucking budget. And to get that budget, she drew off the household savings. (With the blessings of the Mr. Human.)

The human is still considering how best to spend the money. Honestly, it will depend on what ads perform well. The ads that perform well will get more money.

To begin with, I’ll discuss what the human is doing with the various ad platforms, how well she thinks these efforts will work, and how she’ll roughly spend the money.

Now, it’s worth noting that if the book just doesn’t sell well, she won’t spend her entire budget. Making a genuine effort to reach new readers is more than just throwing money at advertising platforms. It involves spending that money wisely.

Hitting a list is a formula with a lot of variables.

  • Ad budget. (How much paid advertising is available.)
  • Target audience. (Does your book appeal to a sufficient number of people to potentially sell 5,000+ books?)
  • Market appeal. (Did you write a book that appeals to the market?)
  • Strong advertising copy. (Is your cover attractive? Does your description entice? Do you have catchy advertising material for social media?)
  • Your fanbase.

Ad Budget

This is a hard one. An unfortunate truth of life is that it takes money to make money, especially in publishing. Yes, grassroots efforts can work. I know a few people who have just gotten damned lucky, releasing a book that happened to have a broad target audience and even stronger market appeal.

This is luck. It’s okay to be lucky.

The human isn’t lucky, and she knows it.

The human has skirted the list with a $7,500 budget. She flat-out missed on a $10,000 budget near Christmas. (While the new readers she found on that budget were ultimately marvelous, she didn’t reach enough of them. The timing wasn’t right. But, she didn’t know this until she tried.)

Failure happens with or without a budget. So, if you can’t accept that out of the gate, making a run is probably not a good option for you. That’s okay. Really. It is.

Making a list will not help your career.

It doesn’t increase sales down the road. It makes your covers look pretty, sure. But people don’t buy books because they see the title on the cover.

It looks nice, but that’s about it.

I stray, however. Back to the budget.

Spend your money wisely, set a cost per acquisition (AKA, you’re willing to spend $this much money on each sale you make.)

For something like this, the human prefers spending no more than $2 per sale. That’s a $1.65 loss per lead. (This is why a sale like this is called a loss lead; authors spend more money than they make to get their books to a high number of readers.)

Obviously, the lower the cost per lead, the better off you are as an author.

Before I skip to the next section and start showing off some of the actual ads being used, I want to take a moment to explain how losing money to make money works.

Math sucks, but we’re going to have to play with it a little here.

Let’s assume the human spends all $20,000 of her budget at a cost per acquisition rate of $2. That’s 10,000 sales. At Amazon’s royalty rate, that is a grand total of $3,500 in earnings and a $16,500 loss.

The Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) series has 3 published novels outside of the set and one novella readers might purchase following reading the box set. There is one novel (Burn, Baby, Burn) up for preorder.

The goal of this sale is to get people to read at least Playing with Fire, the first book in the set… and hope they loved the book and characters enough to preorder Burn, Baby, Burn.

it’s a gamble.

So, back to the math. Since the goal is to boost Burn, Baby, Burn, let’s work with just that book for a moment. Sell through is when someone reads a book and likes it enough to buy another book. I’ve had people claim they have a 100% sell through because they’re aces!

I laugh my ass off at that. Nobody with any sort of volume of sales has 100% sell through. No one. It’s a statistical impossibility. Why?

People like and dislike things. End of story.

Let’s pretend the human has a 5% sell through to Burn, Baby, Burn. That would be 500 copies sold. Her royalty rate for Burn, Baby, Burn is $4.10. That means if she gets 500 copies of Burn, Baby, Burn sold, she will make $2,054.

Yeah. That’s rough. This is why it’s called a loss lead.

Realistically, the human’s sell through rate is closer to 20%. That means, if all goes well, she’ll reach 2,000 readers who are interested enough in the stories to continue reading them. That would be $8,218 in paid royalties–and almost enough to hit list with the work and money she has already invested in Burn, Baby, Burn.

The problem is, it will probably take six or more months to get those readers to become interested in the series.

Loss leads like this are a long-term game. Everything she does next week is planning for the future.

Now, let’s return to the four other Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count) books. Let’s assume the 20% sell through is accurate. (For sake of simplicity.)

2,000 copies of three novels is $20,454 in earnings. This is how a loss lead becomes viable for authors like my human. Add in the novella, and that’s an additional $4,018.

The sale itself, three novels, one novella, and Burn, Baby, Burn, assuming a static 20% sell through rate, becomes $36,190 in earnings off $20,000 in spend.

Assuming the human continues to write stories people want to read, those readers may stick around and become dedicated fans. That means the rest of her books might become interesting to them!

This is why it’s beneficial for authors to attempt bestseller runs–on their own.

Getting together with a bunch of people to do a boxed set can be fun. The human did it three times, although she emerged with some serious regrets. She got her letters, but they did absolutely nothing for her career.

A full discussion of the disadvantages and pitfalls of boxed sets aiming to list is for another time. Back on subject.

I’d be sorry this post is so long, but I’m a cat and I don’t care. (And it’s good information for you if you need it in one place.)

Next…

Target Audience and Market Appeal

If you’re going to try a bestseller run, you need to know your audience. Market research is vital. If you don’t know who else writes books like you do, how can you appeal to those readers?

You can’t.

End of story.

You need to know your genre, your target audience, and understand why your book might appeal to the market.

The Magical Romantic Comedy series appeals to readers who need fun and laughs in their life. That has a rather large cross-over audience, which is why that series enjoyed some popularity.

It doesn’t really fit anywhere, which, unfortunately, means the human has to spread a larger net and try to hit more people.

But, for a short list of authors with ‘similar’ books… Piers Anthony, Robert Aspirin, and Terry Pratchett are a few. Shelly Laurenston, as well–except the human doesn’t write any explicit sex.

Fans of Romantic Comedy are often hit or miss–it all depends if they are reading for the sex, the story, or something else. Those who are reading for the sex won’t like the human’s books because of the lack of sex.

(Read the reviews sometimes to hear the complaints about the lack of sex on the page. Oy.)

Market research can make or break you if you’re trying to make a bestseller run. The human hired her PA (Personal Assistant, CR Phoenix) to do market research for her.

It took close to twenty hours of dedicated work to get a master list of 1,000 authors who write related books/genres to the human’s works. This list becomes the foundation for ads for facebook, bookbub, and Amazon Advertising Services (AMS.)

Now that we have gotten through all the basics, it’s time to start discussing ads.

Right now, my human spends a few minutes here and there to build a new ad on one of the ad platforms. This screenshot is her facebook dashboard at the moment:

This represents $3,150 of her budget, assuming all of the ads survive throughout the week or do not have their budgets changed. (They will either die or have their budgets cranked up.) By Sunday night, this number of ads will easily be doubled. Her goal is to have $10,000 in ad spending across these ads, each of which will have a week-long budget of $350. (AKA $50 a day.)

Building Facebook Test Ads

The following screenshots show one of the test ads. Will this ad work? No idea! That’s why the human is going to be testing it on a limited budget.

Here are the fundamentals: This is a traffic-targeting ad. (Annnnd, the human just changed that pesky 3:31 PM in the start date to AM. This is honestly something she does in the last phase, but since she’s in the ad anyway…)

Anyway, this ad uses expansion interest targeting. This sometimes works, this sometimes doesn’t, but it’s worth experimenting with. Approximately half of the ads will use expansion interest targeting to hit as many people for as cheaply as possible.

The above image shows some of the targeting. There’s a lot in here. The human makes reading-related subjects my top-most target, as she wants reach READERS.

Now, onto the ad setup.

My basic method of setting up an ad is as follows:

  • Image that is eye-catching, bright, and otherwise interesting.
  • A snippet from the book so the reader can see if they’ll enjoy my writing style. I don’t want to waste their time.
  • A link to the book at the various retailers. Most of my readers shop on Amazon, so the link goes there, but I do include the link to other retailers as well. (It’s VERY rare for people to click through to other retailers, however.)
  • Finally, a headline saying what’s in the set.

Rinse and repeat with new images, new snippets, and new targeting. Over and over and over and over and over again.

(It’s really that simple.)

Here’s an example of one of my targeting branches.

The top level is reading related; the human wants to reach readers! The second level is authors and series names; this was taken from her market research material for a test drive. The final level is a security blanket; she wants readers who are interested in the type of book she’s selling!

This list is RISKY! Why? It has a long of contemporary romance without speculative fiction requirements. That’s why it’s a test.

The human won’t know if she’ll appeal to contemporary romance readers unless she tries some ads. Sometimes, it works shockingly well.

Others? Utter and total failure.

Oh, and to make things complicated–even more complicated, that is–an ad that worked on Monday might not work on Wednesday, and it could be because there’s a new television show you didn’t know about.

Advertising requires patience, an understanding you will lose money while learning how to make money, and even more patience.

(And when you’re doing a loss lead campaign like this, every damned penny counts.)

You have more room for flexibility advertising full-priced books, they are also a lot harder to sell. It’s a Catch-22. It’s easier to sell the cheaper book but your profit margins are either heavily limited or a loss, or the book is hard to sell at full-price but you have a hope of making profit…

But if you write fantastic books with good covers and strong descriptions, your book will sell at full price.

But here’s the thing: The burden of a book’s performance falls directly on your shoulders.

You need a strong cover, a better description, and an even better book to sell books. If one of those three elements are missing, you’ll find it very difficult to make forward progress even when you’re spending money on advertising.

Go in knowing all failures are ultimately on your shoulders. (And failing is okay, even if it hurts when you spend money that just doesn’t earn back. Been there, done that. It sucks.)

Promoting a Book on the Cheap

People want to hit bestseller lists on the cheap. This leads directly to unethical territory if you’re not careful. I’m not going to list all the unethical bullshit things people do to try to list. I’ll list a few of the super annoying ones, though.

Do this stuff:

  • Newsletter swaps with other authors
  • Readers’ group promotions and giveaways to introduce yourself to new readers
  • Interviews
  • Blog Tours
  • Let people know you’re attempting a run.
  • Cheap (but often ineffective) promo sites
  • Recommendation threads where the authors are invited to plug their books
  • Politely request blurbs/endorsements from other authors, be aware you will most likely be rejected and that you usually need to give authors several months to get to your book. (And you need to have a super great book on the table for this one to work at all. Proceed with caution.)
  • Author networking (See blurbs/endorsements and swaps and readers’ groups–you need to be on good terms with other authors for this to possibly work, and you need a book so good they are willing to put their reputations and careers on the line for you.) That’s important to understand: any time an author recommends a book, they do so knowing their readers may buy just because you recommended it. Don’t be insulted if they say no. This is dark waters, and the good authors are very, very selective about their recommendations.

Don’t do this stuff:

  • Trade sales. (AKA, you buy mine, I’ll buy yours.) Anything that is a buy mine I’ll buy yours, or if you do this for me I’ll buy your book, or ANY variation of that is just kinda sleazy and does you no good. Yeah, we all want sales, but DO NOT GAME THE FUCKING SYSTEM.
  • Buy your way onto the list. Come on, people. YES, THE HUMAN COULD SELL 20,000 COPIES OF THE STARTER PACK JUST FROM A GIVEAWAY. She won’t. It’s cheating. It doesn’t matter if she has the money to do it that way and that it WOULD register as actual sales. *IT* *IS* *WRONG.*
  • Be a dick and stir drama to get more sales.
  • UGH. The human and us kitties can’t even with this anymore.

The takeaway: be a good person, not an asshat.

Moving onto Amazon Marketing Services

Note: the human is still learning this platform, and it is a clusterfuck. This portion is just a general overview of what this platform is and why she’s using it.

Ads from AMS appear in the Sponsored Products listings and on lock screens of ad-enabled kindles.

So far, the human has three ads, one for the lockscreen, two for Sponsored products with slightly different targeting and price points.

This is one of the ads she’s running… and we have no idea if it’ll work but WHATEVER. She’ll find out and adjust the ads as she goes.

The human will report in once the sales drive runs with general performance of the ads. Expecting tragedy, failure, and lost money because she hasn’t really learned this platform yet.

BookBub

For something so critical to the campaign, the human saved it for last. There are two types of BookBub campaigns: featured deals and paid advertising.) The human is going to be using both.

She is going to give BookBub a looootttt of money next week. She’s terrified. Hold her.

Here’s the core BookBub contribution, the Featured Deal:


The human expects a thousand sales from the BookBub Featured Deal. The rest of the 5,000+ sales will be on her to make the list. (Ouch.)

She has not finished figuring out how to do the paid BookBub ads. Honestly, she’s going to email BookBub after setting up a few test ads and ask for help from BookBub. (Yes, you can email BookBub asking for help, especially if you’re planning on dropping a ridiculous amount of money on their advertising platform. They’ll take the time to answer some questions if you need.)

Here are the two (Really bad) BookBub paid ads she’s using. Both ads are using the same creative but are on two types of delivery to see what works better. She will be adding in more ads with different creative to see if she can figure out something that might work.

She is expecting to dump down several thousand dollars with BookBub if she can figure out how to make an ad perform well there. BookBub is tricksy.

Note: you need to have an unlocked account to access the paid ads, but anyone can apply for a featured deal.

We of the Blain Household know this post was exceptionally long, and honestly, this is only the beginning.

We will be back with more information on how we’re doing the run next week, including more examples of ads (which ones worked, which ones didn’t, etc.) so you can benefit from her efforts, too.

We hope this is useful for you!

Leave a Comment:

6 comments
Karen says April 24, 2019

I wait a year or more for a book by my favorite authors. Take your time, enjoy yourself , and find what makes money for you, If you need to put the romantic comedy with body count as a fun project once or twice a year we will understand. Don’t stress out to much.

Reply
    The Sneaky Kitty Critic says April 24, 2019

    One of my future goals is to become popular enough where I can slow down and be a much more casual writer–spending half of my day writing and the rest of the day reading or playing with my kitties.

    Right now, it’s 8-14 hour days most days of the week… but I’m hoping I can get to the point I can work at a fun pace rather than busting tail all the time.

    Reply
Susan says April 24, 2019

Pre ordered Burn Baby Burn because I love these stories and hope you do well with them

Reply
    The Sneaky Kitty Critic says April 24, 2019

    <3 Thank you!

    Reply
Sandy Glunz says April 25, 2019

😺😘 Here’s your hugs. I bought the starter pack as soon as I found the sale price! I love sets that give a good representation of the series. I am cheap though so I wait for sales. I read really fast and could over spend easily. Unless it’s a series I’ve invested in. I could break my rules for hypnos. Love the excerpt I’ve read so far. Hugs and bloodworms for the management. Love their sassy writing!

Reply
Loredena Frisealach says April 27, 2019

Even as a reader I find this type of post interesting! As Karen said above, I’m used to following authors who only put out one or two books a year anyway, so if the ones I like best have to be worked in around those that sell it’ll work out for me.

As a reader, I do purchase books via Book Bub, as well as Storybundle. Unfortunately I can’t figure out where I signed up for the bookfunnel of Playing with Fire so can’t tell you what worked there. As it happens that’s not actually my favorite of the romcoms (Serial Killer Princess and Whatever For Hire are) but I enjoyed it enough to go buy everything else that was already out and I’ve been preordering them (and Franklin and the Zodiacs) ever since.

So far I’d say they, the Franklin books, and the Zodiac series are all written with the same voice to me and I really really enjoy them. But I love both romcoms and fantasy, and I prefer not having sex on every other page. Sadly I’m not much into shifter books with the predictable result that the only two I read and enjoyed of yours are the ones least likely to have a sequel.

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