Lessons from My Book Launch; Getting to #1 on Amazon

by Kivi Leroux Miller on June 3, 2010

in Freelance Writing,Marketing,The Book

I’m about 48 hours into my book launch for The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause (Amazon link), so I thought I’d share a few first reflections on the process at this point.

Check out these results:

On the evening of June 1, 2010, the launch day, the book was #1 on the Amazon Nonprofit books list, #2 on the Marketing books list (second only to the legendary The Tipping Point), and the big shocker, #1 on the Movers & Shakers list.

Here are the key parts of the strategy . . .

1) The Pre-Order Campaign That Wasn’t

I was told by my publisher, Jossey-Bass, to use June 8 as the publication date. Even though they expected the books to be in their warehouse by late May, it would take a few days or even a week for the books to get to Amazon and that’s the date Amazon was using.

Thus, I had planned a pre-order campaign that consisted mostly of blogger outreach and an email message to my list of about 10,000 people for the last week or so of May.

Then the UPS guy pulled up to my house on the morning of May 19 with 150 copies, and friends forwarded emails they received from Amazon later that afternoon saying their pre-ordered copies were about to be shipped.

It seems everyone, including staff in various departments at Jossey-Bass, was caught unaware that the book had arrived and shipped early. In fact, it’s June 3 today, the book has been out for over two weeks now, and Amazon still has the publication date listed as June 8!

So much for the pre-order campaign. I had to get my rear into gear.

2) The Whole Launch Day Bonus Game- Blech!

If you do any research at all into doing a book launch focusing on Amazon rankings, you’ll find blog post after blog post advising you to set up a long series of bonus offers to entice as many people as possible to buy the book on the same day. Some authors offer literally hundreds of bonuses.

The plan looks like this: you get all of your friends and colleagues (your launch partners) to provide bonus downloads. You tell book buyers to forward their receipt or order number to an email address and they get an autoresponder with a link to all this extra stuff. Your launch partners then promote this to their own lists, presumably using their own Amazon affiliate codes and pumping up themselves for providing a bonus.

My instincts told me this was not a good approach for this book for two reasons.

(1) Nonprofits don’t like to feel like they are being sold to, period. As a rule, the sector is very suspicious of anything that feels like sales. Marketing a book about nonprofit marketing is actually sort of a dicey proposition. Piling on the bonuses just felt like too much old-fashioned slimy marketing and the whole point of this book is to show nonprofits how to market with integrity so they build a community of supporters around them (or how marketing has a soul, as Danielle Brigida so eloquently put it in her review).

(2) I just didn’t feel like hounding fellow bloggers and consultants for stuff and asking them to push my book to their lists (I’m lousy at asking people for things, which is why I’m in marketing and not fundraising). Making a quick buck is not the driving force in our field (Thank God). So this massive bonus book launch strategy that seems to work so well in the small business world had little chance of success in the nonprofit community, in my opinion.

So, instead, I did a much smaller launch day offer of just two bonuses very closely linked to the book’s content. The first bonus was the most concrete, self-contained, valuable thing I have to offer — an Annual All-Access Pass to our webinar series which sells for $465.  The second was a tagline review by Nancy Schwartz of Getting Attention.org, the first stop on the virtual book tour (more on that in a minute). Nancy is also a business partner of mine, so it’s a great fit.

Nancy published my guest post on her blog around 9:45 a.m. ET on Tuesday. The book’s overall Amazon rank at that point, based mostly on pre-orders, was 169,539 and it didn’t appear on any of the lists. I emailed the offer to my list around 11:45 a.m. ET. I received the first receipt from a buyer at 11:23 a.m., presumably based on the guest post. They started popping in regularly about 10 minutes after the email went out.

At 12:30 p.m., less than an hour after the email went out, the book was at 23,348 overall and 18th on the nonprofit list. I decided around this time that I wanted to produce a video for my first blog post about the virtual book tour. Yes, it would have been better to have thought of that days earlier, but I didn’t, so whatever. So I messed around with that for an hour or so.

At 3:24 p.m., I saw this tweet from Jossey-Bass about the book hitting the Movers & Shakers list:

Mind you, I had never heard of the Movers & Shakers list until now. The Movers & Shakers index identifies the biggest gainers in sales rank at Amazon.com in the past 24 hours. Shortly after this tweet, the marketing manager for the book at Jossey-Bass contacted me because the buyer at Amazon wanted to know what I was doing to boost sales, so they could make sure they had enough books in stock to meet the demand. I think we were all a little surprised, given that this is a professional book in a fairly narrow niche!

At the same time that the book hit #4 on the Movers & Shakers list, it was #312 overall, #1 on the Nonprofit list, suddenly #2 on the Marketing list, and #19 on the Business Management list.

I had a little trouble getting the video online (the audio tracking was all off for some strange reason), so it was close to 5:00 pm ET before I posted to my blog about the book launch. Not ideal, but it was only 2:00 p.m. on the West Coast as I often remind myself when this stuff falls to my late afternoon schedule. I had also tweeted seven times during the day and posted to my Facebook Page twice, which is more than usual for me, but practically nothing compared to a typical book launch.

I did see another burst of receipts after the blog post. On my last check of the day before turning off my computer at 10:30 p.m., the book had reached #264 overall and moved into the #1 slot on the Movers and Shakers list. My little book on nonprofit marketing, with my little launch plan, made the single biggest book  sales gain on Amazon on June 1!

3) The Month-Long Virtual Book Tour

All of my friends who know nothing about the publishing world today and who think I’m hotter stuff than I actually am assumed that I would be going on a real book tour. Ha, Ha, Ha. Yeah, right! While that idea was ridiculous, I obviously wanted to get some good publicity for the book.

As I noted earlier, the conventional wisdom is that you need to compress your sales into a very narrow window of time if you want to have any hope at all of getting ranked and getting the attention of brick-and-mortar store buyers. But this a professional book. In a narrow niche. I’ll probably collapse right in the aisle if I ever see the book in an actual store. I’m assuming all online retail sales, coupled with sales associated with speaking gigs, associations, and teaching programs. That’s it. But the book does has content longevity going for it. It’s not trendy or super timely, so it has a potentially long shelf-life content-wise.

To me, that means there’s value in stretching out the publicity campaign a bit, rather than trying to get everything done within one week. So I put together a month-long virtual book tour, anchored with two live events that I scheduled over a month ago, when I still thought the launch date was June 8. The first was a live online chat with the Chronicle of Philanthropy on June 8 and the second was a webinar for Network for Good on June 29. I planned to fill in the calendar with guest blog posts, interviews, etc.

Instead of slamming every blogger I know with a spray-and-pray approach, I hand-picked 20 people and contacted them with a personal email, offering a free review copy of the book, an interview, a guest blog post — basically whatever they wanted. I suggested that they pick a specific date in June that I could put on the calendar, but said I’d be happy with whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it.

All but one or two people responded positively, either with a set date or a commitment to do something later after they had read the book.  I also welcomed other people to join in via a tweet and a note on the book home page, and a few other bloggers added themselves to the tour schedule too.

In Summary

My book reached #1 positions on Amazon on launch day, based on one email, one blog post, one guest blog post, seven tweets, and two Facebook updates. Sounds easy enough, right?

The reality, of course, is much deeper than that, because I have spent the last two years building a community of supporters around the blog and the webinar series that gave rise to the book in the first place. That community of fans is what took the book to #1 – not anything particularly special that I did on June 1.

The rest of the marketing I do this month will be focused on building and serving that community. I’ll share more about the other parts of the book marketing plan in later posts.

Right now, the book sits at #1 on the Nonprofit list, #11 on the Marketing list, and at #1,232 overall.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emily Cashione October 12, 2010 at 5:43 am

I definitely agree with your stance that the more sound audience one has the easier to go up the ranks. this is the main issue that people face and organizations have to deal with. The objective is to have several websites that interconnect and provide the basis for immediate trajectory.


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2 Joe Waters June 8, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Great summary, Kivi. Thanks for sharing. This will be helpful to me!


3 Debbie Takara Shelor December 15, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Hi Kivi:

Thanks so much for posting such a refreshing strategy that is so vastly different from all the other complicated and hectic scenarios for getting to number 1 on Amazon that are rampant on the web.

A real relationship with a responsive list sounds like just the ticket.

Thanks again,

4 Ian September 22, 2013 at 10:46 am

Hi Kivi – very helpful post. And I’m immensely glad that you can successfully launch a book without the awful 2 gazillion bonuses circus.


- Ian

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