How have authors self-published on Amazon and catapulted their book to the #1 spot?
And, how did they become a bestseller without a publisher or a big budget?
That was the question I was asking myself when thinking about writing a book.
There has to be a path to launching a book that doesn’t involve lots of money and old school publishers. I wanted to take what I know about launching brands with my agency GrowthHit and translate that into a book launch on Amazon.
One problem: I know nothing about writing a book and even less about how to self publish.
Fast forward 422 days. After countless hours of research, writing, recording, and promoting, I was #1 on Amazon and ahead of Seth Godin for 72 glorious hours.
Yes, I have the screenshot to prove it!
Here’s exactly how I did it so you can do the same. (Seriously, if I can do it then anyone can.)
The short version:
- Write a Book Worth Reading
- Determine Your Platforms for Sales
- Price Your Book Competitively
- Design a Page Optimized for Conversion
- Identify the Right Amazon Category for Your Book
- Design a Thunderclap Launch Plan
- Schedule a Product Hunt Launch
- Design an Email Automation Flow for Your Lead Magnet
- Engineer a Referral Mechanism
- Push a Book Launch Promotion
- Go on a Podcast Roadshow
- Book Review Blitz & Give Books Away for Free
- Paid Ads on Social and Amazon
It’s that easy.
Now, the long version. These aren’t necessarily in order but I want to provide some insights from my experience that can hopefully help you self publish a book and blast it to the top of Amazon without any help from a publisher.
Here we go.
Write a Book Worth Reading
For the past six years, I have been teaching founders and marketers at General Assembly, Techstars, the Associate of National Advertising (ANA), WeWork Labs and more. I’ve led international workshops in five-star resorts for executives and I’ve taught to an audience of two 18-year-olds in a basement with no AC.
From CMOs to the unemployed with an idea, I’ve worked with people at various steps of the growth journey and I’ve learned a lot by teaching. Along the way, I’ve been able to see what helps people learn and grow a business themselves.
After making 600+ slides worth of digital marketing presentations, I thought it was time to package up what I’ve learned and share it with aspiring marketers outside of the classroom. That was the main goal of writing the book. It took me a year longer than I thought to produce it but it happened.
Tip: It’s easy to start writing a book. It’s hard to finish a book. The best thing I did was to create a little social pressure on myself. I did this by sending an email to my list that I was writing a book and launching it that next summer. People would respond asking me how it was going. That actually lit a fire under me to make sure I wasn’t a liar and I actually delivered.
Determine Where to Sell Your Book
I knew I wanted to self publish but I struggled on whether I should just sell the book exclusively on Amazon or sell the book on my own site. Amazon has the market and the credibility while my website allows me to have better margins and I own the customer data. I decided to sell my book on both for one reason. I don’t solely care about sales. I care about getting the book to as many people as possible.
On Amazon, I sell the ebook, paperback book, and audiobook for around $11.99. It’ll be very easy for you to just do the ebook and ignore a paperback version and an audiobook version. For me, I had to have all of them for a couple of reasons.
First, if you’re going to spend all this time writing a book go all in and make it a paperback book. It’s rewarding to have your first proof mailed to your front door. (Even if you find a typo on the first page as I did.)
Amazon has some impressive tools that make it actually very easy to turn your ebook into a paperback book. For more on publishing your own paperback book, check out this guide on how to self-publish a hardback book.
As an audiobook power user, I consume most books through audible so I wanted to make sure I made a version for someone like myself. Plus, I wanted to test all potential channels with my book launch.
You can record an audiobook at a pace of 8,000 words per hour. This is assuming you’re a flawless reader. Turns out, I am not. It took me under 6 hours to record the book. Instead of renting out a recording studio, I took a $90 microphone, a pop filter, and my free Garageband software and recorded it under my dining room table surrounded by couch pillows.
It felt more like a fluffy death sauna than a recording studio. But, it worked.
For the final recording, I leveraged an agency to edit the book for Audible and other audio platforms. Here are the best resources for how to record an audiobook yourself from TCK Publishing and Self Publishing School.
On the book website here, I sell everything mentioned above (ebook and audiobook) plus some bigger ticket items. That includes my online growth marketing course, growth templates, and 100+ growth tactics. The price ranges from $29 to $487 based on what the product you want.
How should you process orders on your website? I ended up using Gumroad to sell the book on my own because it is hands down the easiest tool to use for processing orders. It integrates with all platforms and you just pay a percentage of the transaction.
For your first book, go with the easy solution unless you have tech resources or unlimited time. Don’t reinvent the wheel and make something custom because there are so many other things that you need to get right. You can go custom on your next book that’ll be a NY Times Best Seller.
How to Price Your Book
I mentioned prices above but let’s dig into my thought process. I decided to have two very different strategies based on the two platforms I was targeting.
With Amazon, I wanted to be affordable and on-par with other books in my category. This is despite the fact that I am taking a smaller margin because I am not selling exclusively through Amazon with KDP Select. (More on deciding to sell exclusively through Amazon with KDP Select here.)
My goal on Amazon wasn’t sales dollars. It was awareness, order volume, and reviews because that helps become a best seller. I sold an ebook, paperback book and an audiobook with prices that were the average of the top 10 books in the category. See full pricing here.
The book website is where I wanted to have better margins while offering more content. (This is the point of self publishing!) For pricing on my site, I followed the structure laid out by Nathan Barry in his book Authority and had two products.
With product #1, I did an ebook, an audiobook, growth templates, and 100 growth ideas. The prices were $89 but marked down to $29 during promotions.
For product #2 the Growth Package, I did everything in product one plus my custom online growth marketing course. The price was $499 but I marked it down to $89 during promotions. The Growth Package was hands down the most popular product and the product that made me the most money.
If you’re writing a non-fiction book that educates people then it is a huge miss if you don’t make a premium product with an online course. It’s easy to make, it’s how people want to learn, and it’s where you’ll make all of your money.
Design a Page Optimized for Sales
Before we send traffic to the book page on Amazon, it needs to be designed to convert. There are consultants that specialize in just writing copy for Amazon book pages. It’s an art and science.
The more I learn the more I realized that the very first sentence of your book description was everything. This one section can make or break your page because it’s the part that helps get the attention of the reader. The common theme was to lead with a benefit-focused sentence that helps the reader understand what they’ll become after reading your book or what they will gain from your book.
Here is my first sentence:
“Imagine if you had the exact playbook used by today’s top startups to grow a business online.”
In addition to winning over the customer, include keywords that will help Amazon rank your book based on relevant searches. I made sure to do keyword research (using Google Keyword Planner because the google searches overlap Amazon searches according to my little research) and I include relevant phrases that were also covered in the book. Examples include “growth marketing” and “startup growth”.
For additional social proof, you can also include your own editorial reviews on your Amazon page. This helps build social proof into your page. For me, I was able to get three authoritative people to help.
For the book website, I wanted to factor in the best practices for CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) that our firm, GrowthHit, uses for clients. Here are the five things I settled on for the page:
- A Benefited-Focused Headline
- Free-Access to Chapter 1
- A Compelling CTA (Call to Action)
- Social Proof with Testimonials
- A Timely Book Promotion
Below is a look at two parts of the landing page for The Growth Marketer’s Playbook. But see the entire page here.
Identify the Right Amazon Category for Your Book
As I dug into the Amazon ecosystem, I realized how thoughtful you need to be when deciding how you go-to-market. For example, if you want to be a NY Times bestselling author then you need around 10,000 pre-sales of your book on Amazon just to get considered. That’s pre-sales.
That’s not happening.
My main goal was to own a category for 3 hours so I could be #1 in the Amazon charts and call myself a bestseller. (Yes, it’s trivial and dumb but you have to have goals.) The main drivers of that ranking are the following:
- Number of orders
- Number of quality reviews
- Competition in category
The first two are obvious but that last one was fascinating to me because there are so many categories and your choice can make or break your launch. Amazon allows you to select up to three categories. However, there is a hack where you can request even more categories.
Tip: do this category hack – more details here.
To understand what categories to select, I took the books I viewed as competitors and analyzed the three categories on their Amazon page. From there, I clicked on each category to see how many books are in this category and how long the top sellers have been in the top ten spots.
If it was highly competitive and changed a lot then I would want to stay away. If there was no movement in the category but also no high-profile books then it might mean that people don’t search in this category. In addition to that, you can select different categories for a Kindle book, a paperback book or your audiobook. Yes, it’s overwhelming.
As an example, you can target the marketing sub-category that’s under the entrepreneurship category or you can go after the direct marketing subcategory under Business & Money. It gets pretty messy once you get into it.
I wanted categories that were in the middle. Meaning they had high demand but weren’t packed with best selling authors. This resource was one of the best guides for helping me hone in on the right categories for my book.
Design a Thunderclap Launch Plan
My goal was to be the #1 book in marketing on Amazon and hit 5 figures in sales during our launch sequence. As a marketer of big brands, I wanted to take a consumer product launch approach to self-publishing a book.
After realizing that I need lots of momentum on launch day in the form of reviews and sales, I strategized a “thunderclap” launch series that would help make a lot of noise to produce immediate reviews and sales to jump up in the rankings.
This strategy included a pre-launch email sequence to existing subscribers, a blitz of emails to thought leaders, hyper-targeted ads on social, a product hunt launch, a podcast roadshow, and a referral mechanism with a giveaway to all users. The goal was getting sales and reviews within the small time frame, 24-72 hours.
I ended up getting 19 5-star reviews, $13,000 in sales at launch and I was trending as the #1 book in marketing for 72 hours.
Where did I do wrong? My big oversite was accidentally launching on the same weekend as Seth Godin. Doh!
If you don’t know Seth then just type “Seth Godin” into Google and note all the best selling books he has written.
Design an Email Automation Flow for Your Lead Magnet
With lots of initiatives leading to email signups on the book website, it was extremely important that I designed an email automation strategy that would help maximizes purchase conversions and Amazon reviews.
I made a 5-part growth lesson email series. The goal was to showcase a preview of what’s in the book, add value to customers, and get them to take action. The email series was dripped over 5 days with a content download or growth lesson every day. On the last day, I included a promo code to nudge people to convert.
Here is a look at the email flow.
In addition to a promo, I also baked in a referral mechanism into the email sequence. More on that next . . .
Engineer a Referral Mechanism
I had a limited budget so I knew I needed to get creative by turning customers and visitors into marketers.
With direct to consumer brands like Harry’s and Girlfriend Collective, the most successful product launches involve a referral campaign with a strong incentive to share. This type of growth loop at launch is designed to turn customers into marketers with 24 hours of making a purchase.
I wanted to create something similar to my book launch. I leveraged Gleam.io to make a book launch giveaway. If you did a tweet, Facebook post or email about the book then you would be entered to win a free $5,000 Growth Plan from my growth agency. This resulted in 501 entries and created social buzz for me on launch day.
Here is a look at the referral mechanism we made.
I served this referral mechanism up three different ways:
(1) As a dedicated email in the launch sequence
(2) On a landing page after someone purchased the book from my book website
(3) Pushed this out on social and on community forums
As a result, this created buzz on launch day with tweets like the following.
Book Launch Promotion & Giveaway Books for FREE
During the launch sequence, I decided to offer the entire growth package at 80% off to, hopefully, make the price extremely affordable. Also, I decided to give away ebooks to specific organizations, startup accelerators, and charities.
It might sound counterintuitive to give away your book for free if you want to make money but it’s all about starting a conversation. There isn’t a better way to do that than to get your content to as many people as possible. My #1 goal was to engineer a conversation about the book on social so people would know that it exists.
Product Hunt Launch
Product Hunt is an ideal product for a launch day because you can be on the front page of the website and their users are trained to upvote and share products, books and tools they like. I wanted to leverage a trusted author to “Hunt” the product and Ben Yoskovitz (Author of Lean Analytics) was kind enough to help by sharing with his community. On launch day, I emailed my list about the launch and requested upvotes.
As a result, we ended up getting 300 upvotes.
Verified Book Review Blitz
If you could do one thing for your launch that would have the biggest impact then it would be to get verified book reviews. A verified book review is when a confirmed buyer leaves a review of your book on Amazon. There is not an easy way to get this other than asking your customers to leave their feedback.
My attempt at getting book reviews was done through manual email outreach, Amazon giveaways, and third party book review tools and platforms. The only one that worked for me was manual email outreach. The other options failed.
I was fortunate to have a database of former students that I had taught so I was able to email them, send them to my book page and then ask them to give their feedback within the Amazon reviews.
To be honest, I would do more research on this for next time because I think it would have kept me in the #1 spot for longer.
Paid Ads on Amazon
To amplify the reach of my book, I launched Amazon ads and social ads. That was particularly important on launch day because I wanted to make sure we increased our visibility to help get that #1 ranking.
On Amazon, I did a manual PPC campaign that targeted phrases and books related to my topic. I had the best success targeting marketing books that just launched and targeting keywords that were specific to my category. Those keywords include growth hacking, growth marketing and startup marketing.
Here is a look at the ad.
With Facebook ads and Instagram ads, I targeted people interested in startups, digital marketing growth hacking, Gary V, Neil Patel, Tim Ferris, founders, CMOs, engaged shoppers that bought something within 14 days, and more. I played around with US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. I actually had some pretty good sales in India but had to be careful because Facebook would push all my budget there if I didn’t set up my account properly.
On launch day, I ran one prospecting ad campaign that used a problem-solution format with a slideshow video to get them interested in the book and the concept. I sent everyone to the Amazon page.
After the Amazon launch, I switched the urls to my book website. Then I ran a retargeting campaign about the growth package with an image that reengaged anyone that engaged with the ad or my book website and didn’t purchase. The results are below.
Leading up to the launch, I decided to go on a podcast tour to help spread the word of the book. My goal was to get all the podcasts to air in and around the launch date of the book. This is easier said than done.
Podcasts proved to be very hit or miss for me. Some were extremely fruitful while others had zero sales. I used promocodes (provided by Gumroad) to track the sames on my site. I was unable to do attirbution for an Amazon sales. The ROI was pretty mixed for the most part. But, here were the top two podcasts for my book in terms of sales.
- My interview with John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneurs on Fire
- My interview with Dennis Brown of Growth Experts
Podcast Tip: I wasn’t very strategic about having a unified message for the book and I wasn’t thoughtful in how to sell it to each audience. Looking back, I wish I would have been more prepared to endorse my book in a creative way for each individual audience.
Within 24 hours of launch, it happened! The Amazon algorithm gods decided to bless me with the #1 book in marketing / PR ahead of Mr. Seth Godin.
For the next 72 hours, I was on top. I was the #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in PR Marketing and I did it as a self publisher.
Come Monday, the thunderclap mega storm blew over and Mr. Godin was #1. My book dropped to third place and the algorithm gods we’re blessing another author.
But, I still have my screenshot and the ability to say I am a Top Selling Author on Amazon . . . even if just for 72 hours.
Hope this blog post helps you self publish your book and get to the top of the Amazon charts.
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