selling books without marketing budget

One of our guiding principles at TCK Publishing is that we never stop promoting a book we believe in. When we know we have a good book on our hands, we’re willing to continue promoting the book and the author year after year, even if sales are lackluster at first.

Had we not followed this approach with Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley, we never would have sold anywhere close to 80,000 copies.

This Bestseller Started Out Slow

In the first 12 months after Unlimited Memory was published in January 2014, we only sold 603 ebook copies—by all accounts, this book was a clear “failure.”

That’s because most traditional publishers, especially in the Big 5, consider the first three, six, or twelve months of a book’s life to be all that counts. If a book doesn’t sell thousands of copies right away, it’s a failure. The book doesn’t get promoted, the author struggles to get another contract, and the book fades away into oblivion.

But that’s not how the real world works—that’s just how the traditional publishing industry behaves. In the real world, patience and persistence can pay off big.

Over the next nine months, Unlimited Memory sold 2,289 ebook copies. Things were starting to turn around.

And then we landed our first BookBub promotion, selling 8,273 copies in a single month—that’s 2.8 times as many sales in a single month as had been sold in the first 21 months since the book was released!

Since then, the book has never sold less than 600 copies per month, with several thousand new sales coming most months.

Unlimited Memory Kevin Horsley

Never Stop Promoting

Imagine what would have happened had we stopped promoting this “failure” of a book just because of poor sales during the first year!

Yet most publishers do stop promoting books just a few months after they’re released.

And that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do if you want to achieve success as a self-published or indie author today.

If you want to go from debut author to success, you have to focus on long-term results and stay persistent. You don’t have just a few months to achieve success. And if you look at success stories like Hugh Howey (who didn’t get his first bestseller until book #10), you’ll see that all of their “overnight success” took years to develop.

All great artists know it takes perseverance and tenacity to succeed. It takes the willingness to go from failure to failure without giving up, and it takes a long-term mindset.

Your goal as an author shouldn’t be to get rich overnight; your goal should be to build up a fan base of loyal readers by consistently creating and promoting your work day after day after day—regardless of how many books you sell in your first year.

But patience and perseverance can use some help from time to time. That’s where smart and strategic marketing comes in.

Here are a few of the ways we turned Unlimited Memory from an “obvious failure” into a strong success!

Use Every Amazon Kindle Promotion You Can

Although you can buy ebooks elsewhere, Amazon dominates the industry, with more than 70% market share in the US, and even more in the UK. That means most of your potential readers are shopping for their eBooks on Amazon—and it means you need to be in front of them.

While there’s some debate about whether KDP Select is the best choice for indie authors, it certainly helps when you’re promoting your book, because it lets you take advantage of every promotion Amazon has to offer. Author Earnings found that indie romance authors enrolled in KDP Select earn twice as much in royalties as similar authors whose books aren’t enrolled in KDP Select.

You should use every tool Amazon gives you to sell more books. Sometimes the slight edge from a single promotion can make a big difference in your long-term sales.

This means scheduling Kindle Countdown Deals or Free Promotions every 90 days if your book is enrolled in KDP Select.

kindle countdown deals

Kindle Countdown Deals

We have been consistently running Kindle Countdown Deals for Unlimited Memory every time Amazon allows us to (that’s once during every 90-day KDP Select Enrollment period).

We’ve seen a boost in sales every time we’ve run a Kindle Countdown Deal for the book, even without using book promotion sites or other forms of marketing.

When you combine a Kindle Countdown Deal promotion at 99 cents with several promotions from the top book promotion sites, the results can be impressive.

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) Ads

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads are powerful because they allow you to put a link and promotional copy for your book in front of your ideal readers while they’re shopping on Amazon for similar books.

You can use AMS Sponsored Products ads to target readers through keywords and based on various genres, niches, and reader interests. It’s a bit like using Google AdWords, but targeted specifically to shoppers on Amazon, who are already looking for books just like yours—so it’s incredibly powerful.

You can also target ads based on the buying patterns of your customers using Product Display ads, so if you have a business book, you can target readers who regularly buy business and investing books on Amazon. You can even target readers who have bought specific books or products on Amazon.

We’ve already talked about AMS ads in detail on the blog, so you can learn more about AMS ads and other smart marketing strategies here, and then go step-by-step through creating a campaign, setting a budget, and more here.

Book Reviewer Outreach

When we started to really gear up the promotion for Unlimited Memory, we used Book Review Targeter to create a list of 1,000+ book reviewers who had reviewed similar books on Amazon. Then we simply sent them an email saying something like this:

Hi,
Would you like a free review copy of my new book Unlimited Memory?

If so, just let me know if you would like a PDF, .mobi, or .epub version and I’ll be happy to send it over.

Thanks!
Kevin

This simple email campaign helped us get dozens of quality reviews from folks who already proved they were interested in reading books about memory and knew how to write a review on Amazon.

Blogger Outreach

You can also reach out to book bloggers to build more buzz for your book. This often gets you triple exposure: you’ll get Amazon and Goodreads reviews and you’ll be featured on that blogger’s website, in front of their whole audience.

There are lots of resources you can use to find bloggers in your particular niche; learn more about that in this article.

Once you’ve chosen the bloggers you want to target, learn a bit about their blog and then write a quick email much like the Book Review Targeter email, simply introducing yourself and offering a free book for review.

Soon, you’ll start getting more reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, which helps boost where you appear in Amazon searches, leading to more book sales!

Smart Keyword Planning

Keyword research is very important if you want your book to consistently sell well on Amazon, but there’s one major problem: Amazon won’t rank your book well for keywords unless you:

1) drive enough sales consistently to rank well for competitive keywords; and

2) have a book that converts Amazon browsers into buyers.

Conversion rates on Amazon are crucial to long-term sales success because Amazon is constantly testing and using data science to promote the books that are most likely to sell (and are therefore most likely to earn Amazon more profits).

For example, if your book converts 8% of Amazon shoppers into buyers while other books in your market convert at 10%, it’s highly unlikely your book will rank well for competitive keywords, no matter how many of them you stuff into your book description.

On the other hand, if your conversion rate is 12% while everyone else in your market converts at 10%, you’ll likely rank well for the keywords you’re targeting and get Amazon to feature your book in even more special promotions.

Choose your keywords carefully. You can either do this by hand, by going through competitive books in your category and looking at what keywords they include in their title, subtitle, and description, or you can use software to speed up the process.

We use software called KDP Rocket to do keyword research for all of the books we publish. It makes the whole process quick and easy, and the software comes with some great training videos on keyword research, so even if you have no idea what a keyword is, you’ll be able to get better results.

Check out the K Optimizer 2.0 keyword tracking tool so you can track your books’ keyword rankings, and then read more about smart keyword-optimization marketing strategies in this article.

book promotion sites

Book Promotion Sites

Using book promotion sites is a no-brainer. You get access to readers who are interested in books like yours for a reasonable fee.

You just have to do your research and watch out for sites that overcharge or don’t deliver results.

There are sites that will help you promote free books and others that will help get out the word about your sale promotions for discounted books. Be sure to read both posts to get great tips on getting the most out of using book promo sites!

BookBub Promotions

BookBub is the big kahuna of book promotion sites, with many millions of email subscribers signed up for their free service.

When we landed our first BookBub promotion for Unlimited Memory, that’s when sales really started to take off.

BookBub allows you to apply to send your book promotion offer to thousands of interested readers, getting you a ton of potential sales (for a discounted book) plus potential reviews that could help boost your Amazon ranking and thus make more sales.

The cost of a promotion varies depending on what genre you’re working in, but compared to the results you can achieve, it’s incredibly affordable.

There are a few things you can do to maximize your BookBub experience, like setting up your author profile for the best results. Again, keywords play a big role here, helping to make sure that BookBub readers want your book!

Don’t submit your book for a BookBub promotion more than once every four weeks and make sure your book meets all of their promotion requirements.

BookBub Marketing Tip: Make a note in your calendar to submit your book for a BookBub promotion every 29 days to maximize your chances of getting your book featured.

Amazon Promotions

Amazon has promoted Unlimited Memory several times. When Amazon sends you an email stating they would like to promote your book and asking you to confirm if that’s okay, always say “YES!”

Our first Amazon promotion led to selling more than 4,000 eBook copies in a week. Not bad for simply replying “yes” to an email.

Understand, though, that these Amazon promotions are not something that you can control directly. Amazon chooses to promote books that are already selling well, so you need to focus on the marketing you can control first and foremost.

Just make sure you:

  1. Keep your email address up to date and on file in your KDP, CreateSpace, and ACX accounts.
  2. Always have someone checking your email every 24 hours, because Amazon sometimes gives you only 48 hours to respond when they’re on a tight schedule to run a promotion.
  3. Always say “yes” when Amazon wants to promote your book!

Here’s an example of what the Amazon Daily Deal Promotion emails look like:

Dear Publisher,

We are considering including some of your book(s) in an upcoming Daily Deal in the Kindle Store US (www.amazon.com). We would offer the books at a discount we determine off of your book’s list price for a limited period. Your list price won’t change, so that customers see your list price and the discount.

If your books are included, your royalty will be calculated based on our discounted price (not your list price), up to a discount of 70% off of your book’s list price. For example, if we sell your book at $1.99, where the 70% royalty option applies, your royalty will be calculated as 70% x ($1.99 – delivery costs and taxes). To be included in this promotion, your book must have a list price of at least $1.99.

The promotion will begin on a date we determine, which we anticipate to be at some point between 09/01/2017 – 10/31/2017.

Here are some other terms:
    • Not all books made available will be included, so we can’t guarantee yours will be, and we may discontinue the promotion at any time.
    • You must keep your book in the Kindle Store for at least 90 days after the promotion ends; you can’t un-publish it or terminate your participation in KDP during that period.
    • Due to system latencies, the exact start and end times of promotions are approximate and can take from a few minutes to several hours, but in some cases this period may be longer.
    • If you agree to participate, this page and the KDP Terms and Conditions will be the entire binding agreement between you and Amazon Digital Services, Inc. with regard to the promotion.
    • Except as provided in this email, the KDP Terms and Conditions apply to your book and this promotion.
    • If you represent a Publisher other than yourself, by agreeing to participate you also confirm that you are authorized to agree on behalf of the Publisher.
     • If your title is selected, we will notify you before the launch of the promotion via email.

The below title(s) are nominated for a promotion:

B00I3QS1XQ  Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and be More Productive

If you want to participate in this promotion, please reply with “I WANT to participate” until 7/25/2017.

Kind regards,
The Kindle Direct Publishing Team

Amazon Paperback Pricing Discounts

The retail price for the print edition of Unlimited Memory is $19.99, but Amazon has consistently discounted the paperback version to between $14.99 and $17.77.

Now, when Amazon discounts the retail price to their readers, we still get paid royalties based on the original $19.99 list price—that’s a pretty good deal for authors!

And because we use CreateSpace to print and ship copies of the book automatically on Amazon, we get the highest margins possible (we earn about $8.64 per paperback sale on Amazon). When we run the numbers on printing and shipping books with a different printer, the margins aren’t quite as good.

These price discounts can increase sales significantly and help authors attract more readers faster.

Although we can’t control Amazon’s pricing discounts, I’m fairly certain that Amazon is more likely to discount and promote print books that are printed with CreateSpace because Amazon owns CreateSpace and so they earn more profits when they sell a book from a publisher who uses CreateSpace.

Foreign Language Rights Deals

Selling into other markets is one of the best ways to expand your overall sales, because it offers your book to people who never would have known it existed otherwise.

So far, Unlimited Memory has been translated into French, Simplified Chinese, and Complex Chinese, with several deals and offers currently being negotiated.

Selling foreign language rights for a book can be a great way to add a little extra income and exposure. Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to have a bestseller on your hands in order to have an international publisher pay you for the rights to translate and publish your book in a different language.

You can pitch your book to foreign rights agents and publishers by email and in person at conferences like the Frankfurt Book Fair and London Book Fair (these are the two biggest annual industry events for foreign rights deals).

Best of all, this is truly passive income—you’ve already written the book and the international publisher takes care of the translation, marketing, and sales in the new market. You just get royalty checks!

Book Marketing is Simple

If all this feels a little too simple, that’s because it is.

The author didn’t have a huge platform or an email list of 50,000 subscribers. We couldn’t just push a button and attract thousand of sales in the first week of release. It took many months to attract the right group of readers and book reviewers before sales really took off.

When you have a great book distributed through Amazon and other online retailers that people want to read, it’s not rocket science to sell a lot of copies.

You need a good cover design, a good book description, and the willingness to continue promoting the book consistently.

When you focus on these fundamentals of book marketing, you don’t need a huge budget or platform; you just need a good book and the courage to keep promoting it even when it doesn’t sell well or you get a bad review.

The moment you give up is the moment you’ve lost. It’s okay to get discouraged (we all do sometimes), but you should never quit on your dreams (unless you decide to switch gears and go after different dreams).

It’s Your Turn to Sell More Books

By using these strategies, putting the time and effort into continuing to support the book, and having some patience, we took Unlimited Memory from a disappointing niche title to an incredible Amazon bestseller.

Tens of thousands of people have read the book, improved their memories, told friends, and spread the word, helping to keep the book’s sales strong over time.

It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t a spontaneous hit—but it’s proof that smart, patient marketing can pay off with a huge success!

Good planning and long-term thinking can push your book to bestseller status and give you book sales for years to come. Unlimited Memory is proof!

Note: This post was updated on November 21, 2017 to reflect that sales of Unlimited Memory have now surpassed 80,000 copies.

For more on how to market your book on a tight budget, read on:

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