How We Beat the Major Publishers and Scored a Hit on Amazon
The events of the past week are testament to the fact that with a little bit of savvy and just the right amount of pressure, any wall will crumble. That's what happened when we published the 40th anniversary e-book edition of American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman. Within 48 hours, it rocketed up the new e-book charts and took the #1 position in not one but two separate Amazon Hot New Releases lists, beating out publications from HarperCollins, Macmillan, St. Martin's Press, Scribner, and Random House. I know what you're wondering. How did a two-year-old indie publisher without half the marketing muscle of these industry giants pull off such a feat? Read on and I'll tell you.
1. We Chose the Platform with the Most Engagement
Probably the biggest factor in this success was my decision to publish the e-book exclusively to the Amazon Kindle market. I've published e-books across other platforms in the past—Barnes & Noble NOOK, Kobo, even iTunes—and the combined sales I saw through those channels were infinitesimal compared to those made on Amazon. Does this mean Barnes & Noble shoppers are more selective and Amazon shoppers will buy anything? Not at all. On the contrary, Amazon customers are discriminating shoppers who rely heavily on reviews to arrive at their purchasing decisions. They're also a lot more engaged than shoppers on other e-book buying platforms.
To see evidence of this, all you have to do is pick a book—any book—and see how many customer reviews it has on Amazon versus how many reviews it has on Barnes & Noble. There's no comparison. As of today, the current #1 New York Times bestseller, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, has 76 reviews on Barnes & Noble and 848 reviews on Amazon. I'm no mathematician, but I'm pretty sure that constitutes a colossal difference. Whether this has anything to do with the Amazon website being more user friendly than Barnes & Noble's website is a moot point. The bottom line is that Amazon shoppers leave a lot of reviews, and reviews help sell books.
2. We Made Smart Use of Amazon KDP Select Marketing Tools
Amazon has a program you can enroll your e-book in called KDP Select. This requires that your e-book be available exclusively on Amazon, but the tradeoff is gaining access to some powerful marketing tools. Like making your e-book available to Kindle Unlimited subscribers, adding it to the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, and running periodic free book promotions.
If the first thought that ran through your head just now was "But I don't want to give my book away for free!" it's likely you're not thinking big enough. Books don't sell until they sell. It's human nature for people to gravitate to products that other people are lining up for. Giving your book away, even if just for a short period of time, is a smart way to rack up reviews and get others to notice its existence. It's a sales strategy older than papyrus, and one used in every industry from music to detergent. You may not get rich, but you will get exposure. And if you want to be a successful writer, exposure—especially when you're first starting out—is far more valuable than cash.
My decision to make the American Sons e-book available free for 24 hours made all the difference in the world. Hundreds of people who may not otherwise have paid for the book downloaded it, which sent its visibility skyrocketing and will have a lasting effect long after the sale's ended.
3. We Published a Polished, Professional Product
My last piece of advice has nothing at all to do with Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or cunning sales strategies. It's a lot simpler than that, and also a lot harder: You have to write a good book. But possibly even more important than that, you have to present a professional product that will withstand shopper scrutiny. Remember, Amazon allows readers to download a sample of your e-book before they buy. If the first several pages of your book aren't compelling, or if they're riddled with typos and poor grammatical choices, you're sunk. This is why you need a professional editor.
Bear in mind that having your friends and family read your book and offer feedback is not the same thing as getting a professional edit. These people are your beta readers, and it's smart to have them—but if you really want to improve your book and turn it from a good read into a great read, the best way to do that is to have a skilled, educated, impartial third party look at it with a critical eye and help you make it better. This is what I tell every author I meet who's even remotely interested in getting their work published. If you do nothing else, hiring a professional editor is the one thing you should do.
Parting Shots and Afterthoughts
The traditional publishing industry is on the ropes. It's a beautiful thing to see; the democratization of an industry that's been lorded over by a select group for centuries. Writers today don't need big-time agents to pitch their books to the major publishers of the world—and speaking from personal experience, I can tell you this is most assuredly no guarantee of success. You don't even need a major publisher to get your work read. These days, anyone with talent and a toolbox of know-how can publish their book and have it be a success. It's not easy, and there are no guarantees, but it's doable. Now you have no excuse not to try. If you need help, you know where to reach us.
Vince Font is the founder of Glass Spider Publishing, an independent publisher founded in 2016 and headquartered in Ogden, Utah.