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A Foray into Amazon Promotions & Best Seller Lists

Updated: Sep 1, 2019

Today – Friday, August 31st – is the first day of a 3-day free promotion for The Reborn, the first novel in my technothriller series about raising super-intelligent simulated humans in computers. (You can get it here.)

This is the first time I’ve used Amazon’s free promotional days, and I’ve gotten some great results. I’d like to share what I’ve learned along with some numbers.

(Quick history: In April, I published a 3-part novel series which I had been working on for a handful of years. It’s called The Day Eight SeriesRead about it here.

Using Amazon "Free Days" Promotions

I had no idea these free day promotions existed until recently, because they’re a bit hidden. For any book enrolled in KDP Select, you get 5 free promotion days every 90 days.

In your bookshelf, you need to check the box next to your book, then click on Actions:

Then choose Manage Promotions at the bottom of that drop-down (left).

That brings up the promotion manager:

It’s simple once you know about it. According to other authors and book sites, using 2-3 days at a time works best. I chose 3 days so I could get a weekday (Friday) and two weekend days of this long Labor Day weekend.

Preparation: Getting on Free Book Lists

It would do no good to have a free book if nobody could find it. Every author’s main challenge after publishing is getting an audience. I’ve used the standard social media, but there are a few extra avenues for free book promotions. Specifically: free book lists. I submitted The Reborn to these sites, which each have tens of thousands of readers or more:

  1. Digital Book Today, which hosts a Top 100 Free Kindle Books list that gets 45,000 clicks on books per month.

  2. Pixel of Ink, which has over 300K likes on Facebook and has a page for limited time free Kindle books.

  3. Free Kindle Books and Tips, which has a nice curated list of free Kindle books and 350,000+ readers of the site.

I’ve never paid for marketing, and I don’t know if I will, but there are some tantalizing paid promotions out there, like this feature on FreeBooksy that costs $50 and claims that authors will sell 4x as many books. (Hmm, maybe Suzanne Collins should advertise The Hunger Games there to sell an additional 78 million copies.) 

Preparation: Categorizing Your Book Effectively

I found some great advice about categorizing your books for the best and most useful visibility. Read the how-to here on Digital Book Today. Here’s the gist: when you pick your 2 book categories the normal way, you don’t have all the options. Specifically, you have fewer ways to narrow down your category. For example, although my novels are technothrillers, that’s not an option through the Amazon bookshelf:

But there’s clearly a category for Technothrillers when browsing books on Amazon:

…and you can get your book in any of these very specific browsing categories, but you need to send mail to KDP support (again, see this how-to). The reason it’s advantageous to have a specific category as opposed to a general one is because narrow categories have fewer books in them, which makes it easier to find your book, and also easier to place on Best Seller lists. For example, there are 25,544 Thrillers for Kindle, but only 1,610 Technothrillers – much less competition!

However, this isn’t the only way to get it to show up in a category. In fact, my re-categorization hasn’t gone through yet, and The Reborn is still showing up in Technothrillers anyways because I made sure to tag my book:

Amazon has a proprietary categorization system and we don’t know about all the moving parts, but we do know that tagging makes a big difference. I made sure that The Reborn was tagged with the category I wanted to be in: technothrillers, and some variations. Then I made friends with other new authors, and we helped each other by incrementing each other’s relevant tags.

Numbers from Day 1, and Hitting Best Seller Lists

Amazon switches a book to free at midnight. I started recording values at 9:00 am, then updated my numbers every hour until 9:00 pm. Interestingly, it looks like Amazon only updates rankings every 2 hours, so that’s what I’ll do here.

August - Before the Promo

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 10

  • Kindle Rank: 124,608

My books had been in relative obscurity. I’d had plenty of friends, family, and co-workers read through The Day Eight Series over the past few months, but cumulative sales had been low because I hadn’t done anything to promote it aside from a few tweets and Facebook posts.

9:00 AM

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 120

  • Free Kindle Rank: 3,726

  • Free Kindle Technothriller Rank: 12

I woke up to find that 12x more people had downloaded The Reborn this morning (for free) than had paid for it in the entire month of August. And this sudden burst of “sales” was enough to put The Reborn in the 12th bestselling spot in the list of free Kindle Technothrillers! This was a great start.

11:00 AM

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 264

  • Free Kindle Rank: 3,726 (not updated; updates seem to be every few hours)

  • Free Kindle Technothriller Rank: 7

After two hours, I’d had another 144 sales (the numbers I’m reporting are cumulative over the day).

1:00 PM

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 610

  • Free Kindle Rank: 1,031

  • Free Kindle Technothriller Rank: 4

Sales accelerated, and The Reborn climbed to the #4 spot in free Kindle Technothrillers. This specific category has less than 100 books in it, and is a reminder why it helps to pick narrow categories – easier to achieve good ranking. And like in the Apple App Store, good ranking leads to more sales. Which can increase ranking… and get you more sales… And then this momentum contributes to sales when your book returns to paid.

3:00 PM

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 1381

  • Free Kindle Rank: 698

  • Free Kindle Technothriller Rank: 4

This two hour stretch doubled my sales. And at this point, the other two books in the series, Of Mice and Hitmen ($0.99) and The Spiritual Singularity ($2.99) had sold more than they had in the entire month previous to the promotion. And neither of them are free. Having sequels ready to buy while doing this free promotion for The Reborn has been fantastic.

5:00 PM

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 2126

  • Free Kindle Rank: 216

  • Free Kindle Technothriller Rank: 3

  • Free Kindle Action & Adventure Rank: 3 (new!)

Suddenly, The Reborn began appearing on the Best Seller list for free Kindle Action & Adventure books. It reached #3 in both of its Best Seller listings. Action & Adventure was one of my original categorizations for The Reborn, though I’m not sure why it hadn’t shown up there until now. Either way, I was psyched because the free Kindle Action & Adventure category was larger than Technothrillers, with about 400 other books in it.

7:00 PM

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 2832

  • Free Kindle Rank: 85

  • Free Kindle Technothriller Rank: 2

  • Free Kindle Action & Adventure Rank: 1

I’m super-psyched to hit the #1 Best Selling book in the free Kindle Action & Adventure category! These lists change rapidly and books can take large swings in the course of a day. A large swing got me up there – I’m not sure how long it will last.

Here’s another reason it’s nice to be in the top of a free list: when people are browsing top sellers and looking at the likes of George R.R. Martin at the top of the paid category (which has about 40,000 book in this case), your book is right there. Even though your carefully chosen/tagged category only has a few hundred book in it. AND IT’S FREE.

It’s kind of like showing up to a party where there are a bunch of celebrities, but this time, they’re not calling the police or threatening you with a Ming dynasty katana they bought from a Christie’s auction for $100,000. Ahem.

In other words, being at the top of a small category which is next to the top of a large, popular category = win! Of course, all free categories are much smaller than their paid counterparts, which is why it helps to use the Amazon free promo days.

9:00 PM

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 3458

  • Free Kindle Rank: 61

  • Free Kindle Technothriller Rank: 2

  • Free Kindle Action & Adventure Rank: 1

Sales are slowing down to about 70% of the peak numbers from earlier in the afternoon. However, these sales keep pushing The Reborn higher in the ranks.

11:00 PM (Bedtime!)

  • Total Sales of The Reborn: 4001

  • Free Kindle Rank: 49

  • Free Kindle Technothriller Rank: 2

  • Free Kindle Action & Adventure Rank: 1

Finally, after 14 hours, The Reborn has been downloaded just over 4,000 times, climbed to rank 49 in the free Kindle store, and hit two specific best seller lists (albeit small ones) at ranks 1 & 2.

However, one of the great takeaways here is that this success from the first day of my free promotion has greatly boosted sales and ranks of the second two paid books in the series:

  • Of Mice and Hitmen (Book 2) went from Kindle rank 247,000 to 4,683 from about 40 extra sales. I can’t imagine anyone finished The Reborn so quickly after downloading it today (except maybe this guy), so most of the additional sales were likely due to “discovery” of the book, thanks to the free promotion. Either way, this 1% conversion from the free Part 1 to the paid Part 2 is nice.

  • Also, Of Mice and Hitmen began ranking on the Top 100 Best Seller list for paid Kindle Technothrillers (#19) and Technothrillers under normal books (#23):

  • The Spiritual Singularity (Book 3) went from similarly low Kindle rank of 254,500 up to 12,204 by the end of the day, and it also began placing in the same Top 100 Best Seller lists, with rank #71 and #76 respectively:

Conclusion for Promo Day 1: Great Success!

It’s important that I didn’t jump into the free promotion days as soon as The Day Eight Series launched. It’s been a few months – long enough to build up a catalog of reviews and to get the book tagged well.

Once it was ready, I prepped for the promo by submitting The Reborn to free book listings, and strategically started the free promotion today (a Friday) with two more weekend days of a long holiday weekend ahead.

This all set me up for what I consider a personal success. A small few authors have sold 10-20K in their first day (but usually using paid promos on other sites) and yet other authors never break 100 free sales in a day. I’m somewhere in between. For me, it has been all positive.

1 Day down. 2 Days to go.


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