Commentary, Literary

# 98,201 With A Bullet: Building a Kindle Bestseller

Or, How BookBub Helped One Struggling Author Reach His (Modest) Dreams — Sort Of

12/2/2017 9:14 AM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

Today is the day of my BookBub promotion for my novel, WREATHED.

Nice cover, eh?

If you don’t know about BookBub, they are the premier company out there in the book-recommendation market. They have developed several mailing lists of hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom are voracious readers with a few extra bucks to spend on electronic books. If you’re an author, you can apply for a BookBub promotion to get your name on a mailing list — but there’s a few things you have to do.

First, you generally — not always — need to widen the distribution for your book. A lot of independently published books like WREATHED are Amazon-exclusive, because Amazon consistently delivers better results than any other channel. But a lot of BookBub readers are in the Apple ecosystem, so it’s a good idea to widen your distribution network.

Second, you need to discount the price of your book. BookBub offers promotions for e-books you are giving away for free, and books you are selling for anywhere between 99 cents and $2.99. For this promotion today, I am selling my book for 99 cents. (I did a free promotion for this book two years ago, and did very well.)

Third — and this is the crucial part — you need to convince BookBub to take your money. BookBub is famous for turning down independent authors for slots, a practice that has gotten more widespread as more traditional outlets use the service and crowd out slots. I had been turned down several times recently, but got lucky this time (after I widened the distribution channels).

So it’s early here, and I had to get up early to work on a paper for grad school, and the BookBub e-mail hasn’t gone out yet, so I’m basically waiting for that to happen. I had three sales yesterday, and one sale overnight, so that pushed the initial Amazon ranking for the book to a healthy #98,201. (To provide some context, my children’s book — which hasn’t sold any Kindle copies in months — is at #1,570,774.) My goal is to get in the overall top 100 in the romance category, and ideally in the top 1000 site-wide. But it’s early yet. I’ll check in throughout the day. (The promotion runs through the end of next week, and I’ve promoted the book on other sites, so I’ll keep track of that as well.)

12/2/2017 10:22 AM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

The last BookBub promotion I did was on a Friday, and the e-mail went out around noon. This is a Saturday, and I think the e-mail may have gone out earlier. Or it may not have! I am using multiple services today (a process called “stacking”) and I can’t specifically say that today’s sales are due to BookBub or not. But so far, things are looking pretty healthy, with 89 sales. The Amazon ranking hasn’t updated yet; it’s showing WREATHED at #107,035. It’s hard to be patient; you want that number to go up, not down.

12/2/2017 11:17 AM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

I am working on a grad school project this morning, and the person I am working with was supposed to be on a conference call with me to discuss it, but I had uploaded a lot of content to the project and she hasn’t had time to read it yet. That means I am sitting here at my computer, trying to figure out ways to not check sales numbers every five seconds.

Since my last BookBub, the program has gone international, so there are going to be sales in the UK, India, Australia, and Canada as well. Whee! Most of the international sales are from the UK so far — that makes sense, because people are awake there now. I am very curious as to how well the book will do in India (it’s not the least bit Indian) but there is only one sale there so far. My guess is that those will come in overnight, but who knows.

The Amazon ranking is sitting at #112,872, which means that the sales-rank algorithm is behind on calculating the last two hours of sales. (I shouldn’t complain; it is going to take days to figure out if I had any sales through Apple or Barnes & Noble.) But it’s still frustrating. The main reason for doing this is to see if I can drive this book on some kind of bestseller list, and that’s not showing up as of yet.

12/2/2017 12:17 PM EST — Somerset County YMCA

Since it’s the season of giving, I took the Mrs. and the kids to an Operation Shoebox packing event here in the boro. Operation Shoebox sends care packages to American troops overseas — in this case, gallon Zip-loc bags full of travel-size shampoo and soaps and Q-Tips and whatnot. What you do is this: they hand you a bag, you take one item out of each bin, and put it in the bag. You get enough unskilled labor to do this, and many hands make light work.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

But the problem is that so many people showed up to help that there was a line to go through the process. This is the kind of problem you want to have from the organizational perspective, but you leave a lot of volunteers standing in line. So I checked my phone, and sure enough, the algorithm had updated. WREATHED is now up to #2,757 overall in the Amazon US marketplace. It’s starting to show up on category lists, too, although it hasn’t broken the Top 100 in romance or new adult yet.

12/2/2017 2:16 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

A much smaller jump this time, to #2,166. The problem, of course, is that just because you’re on BookBub, it doesn’t mean other people aren’t. Even some big-name authors are doing the BookBub thing today — Michael Chabon’s publisher is discounting The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and go read THAT if you haven’t. You’re competing with all of those guys, and everything else that’s new and popular, so it’s hard to break through to the top 100, even with a lot of sales. Over 200 sales in the US so far today for WREATHED, and another hundred or so worldwide, so that’s a fair amount.

12/2/2017 4:58 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

Child A somehow managed to knock over the gasoline can, leaving a good-size puddle of fuel on the floor, so I spent a productive fifteen minutes breaking up charcoal briquettes with a hoe and spreading them on the garage floor to absorb the fumes. Fun!

WREATHED continues to climb up the charts, to #1,628 overall, and #81 in contemporary romance. That’s 354 sales overall (I’ll wait to break down the international sales later).

12/2/2017 7:58 PM EST — Bahama Breeze, West Windsor, New Jersey

Out to dinner with the wife and kids. (I got the chicken tortilla soup and coconut shrimp, and an interesting Puerto Rican cocktail that was basically coconut egg nog with rum.) The Mrs. takes the kids to the potty while I’m trying to flag down the waiter to get the check. I check the sales rank on my phone. WREATHED is at #861 overall on Amazon. I resist the urge to get another egg nog.

12/2/2017 8:46 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

The sales rank is up a tick more, to #763. What has happened (what I think has happened) is that the month-to-date tab on the Amazon KDP site (which shows you how much you’ve sold that month) has caught up with the sales dashboard tab (which shows authors real-time sales). Usually the month-to-date figure lags a little bit. I don’t know which they use in their sales algorithm, but if it’s the month-to-date, well, that figure seems to have caught up, hence the rise in sales.

The real metric for a promotion like this is return-on-investment. I paid BookBub $270 for this promotion. Right now, I’ve probably made something like $150. I need more sales to break even, and I don’t know if I will get them. A lot is riding on how well I do with the next round of promotions, and sales in Australia and India.

12/3/2017 11:08 AM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

So far this morning, WREATHED has maintained its place in the top 1000 books on Amazon, at#879. And that’s fine, but it’s not going to put the book on a bestseller list, which was kind of the point. I did OK in Australia (38 sales) but lousy in India (only one sale). I have three other promotions going on at other sites, so we’ll see how well I do overall. But I am worrying that we have hit a sales peak, and that I won’t make enough over the next four days of the promotion to break even.

12/3/2017 8:57 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

You know a great way to keep yourself from checking your sales figures every five seconds? Catch a cold. I got tired of working on my school projects, sat down to watch a little NFL football, and slept for the next two hours. And then I was so miserable and stuffed that I couldn’t get off the couch. Over 100 total sales today, which sounds good but doesn’t look good next to the 462 sales from yesterday. The book is still in the top 100 contemporary romances, and is #1,335 overall, which is not too shabby. And I’m #277 overall in Australia, which has to count for something.

12/5/2017 1:05 PM EST — Duckthwacket House, Somewhere in Central New Jersey

Only 4 sales today. That was fun! Sorry it’s over.

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