Most authors see a huge drop in sales a mere 30 days (if not less) after releasing their book, while others maintain consistent sales for months or even longer.
What’s the secret that helps achieve long-term e-book sales on Amazon?
In this post, you’ll find the answer based on my experience as a non-fiction author who’s been enjoying steady sales for much longer than just a single month or two.
Before we discuss the specifics of how to get long-term sales, we have to start with a crucial disclaimer:
Professionalism is the name of the game. The only books that keep selling in the long term are all unique in one way or another and show the author cares to portray himself or herself as a pro. You can no longer slap together an average cover, write a mediocre book, and hope it will sell many copies. Quality is the number one step to long-term sales.
Your book will never do well if you:
– don’t have a professional cover. The self-publishing market is getting more and more competitive. Your cover is the first, most important thing every potential reader sees when browsing the Amazon store. If it’s amateur, you can’t expect many people to go past the bad first impression and buy your book anyway.
– don’t have a book worth its price. First-time authors rarely, if ever, do well. The myth of writing your first book as a great American novel is just that – a myth. If you don’t have experience as a writer, don’t expect your first book to sell well. This rule is less important in non-fiction, where a unique advantage (connections, valuable rare knowledge or perspective, a loyal following, a mentor guiding you through the process), can help you much more than in fiction. People reading non-fiction don’t expect you to be Stephen King; people reading fiction want to read great stories which are (almost) never written by first-timers.
– don’t have any money to market your book. While you can technically make your book a long-term bestseller without any money (if you’re eager to hustle hard), having even just $100-200 to spend on marketing makes a world of difference. Most authors who can’t spend anything on marketing (and don’t have other advantages such as an existing following or connections in the industry) are unlikely to make their book a success.
Having a professional cover, an interesting title, a good book description, at least a few positive reviews (we can help you with that), and great content (whether it’s non-fiction or fiction) are all crucial pieces of the puzzle.
If you aren’t capable of making your book stand out from the vast ocean of mediocre self-published works, you’ll do just as well as the average author. Unless you’re satisfied with making less than $50 a month, don’t disregard the power of getting the basics right. Even best-selling author, R.J. Vickers agrees, and goes into great detail about how important the overall quality and integrity of your book is when submitting to Kindle Scout for consideration.
There’s nothing complicated in getting long-term sales of your e-books on Amazon. The entire algorithm operates on the principle of least effort – the store will promote your book if you show that it sells. Amazon will not help you market your book if it’s not selling, which is a pretty reasonable way of doing business when you think about it (why invest in something that is unproven?).
If you can generate the first few hundred sales on your own, Amazon will help you sell more books. If you fail to do so, nothing but an extraordinary event most authors can’t create (a celebrity recommending your book, a crucial marketing action such as public speaking at a major event, etc.) will help you resurrect your book.
The key to long-term sales lies in the first few weeks on Amazon – usually the first month, and especially the first 7-14 days after the publication date. If you can prove that your book is a seller, it will start appearing in book recommendations and drive further organic sales. Sales beget sales, and a lack of sales quickly sends your book into a zero-sale abyss.
There are two main strategies to launch your book to establish long-term sales:
As a rule of thumb, if you don’t have a list and you’re releasing your first book, a free promotion should work better for you. If it’s not your first book and you already have a list of people who have read your previous works, a $0.99 launch should work better.
Now, how do you exactly structure your launch to increase your chances of long-term sales?
The route for a free launch is to:
1. Upload your book a few days before your free promo starts and price it at your final price (ideally $3.99+ as nobody will consider it a great deal to save $0.99 on a book).
Ask your early reviewers to publish their review during this period. It’s okay for the reviews to be unverified. It’s better to have unverified reviews than no reviews at all during your free promotion.
If you want to start your free promo on Sunday, publish the book on Wednesday/Thursday. Don’t do it sooner as the first 30 days on Amazon are too important to waste them with your book sitting idle.
2. Schedule free promotions on sites like FreeBooksy.com, bknights on Fiverr, and James H. Mayfield’s social media service, etc. for your free promotion lasting 3 days. The goal is to get your book under #100 Free in the entire Kindle store, and ideally under #50.
3. Only advertise the first two days of your promotion (in our example, Sunday and Monday). The last day of the promotion is a bonus you don’t advertise anywhere. Cancel the promotion on this day around noon PST time. Make sure to change your price to $0.99 at least a few hours (I recommend 8-12 hours) before you decide to end the free promotion. There’s a short delay (an hour or so) on Amazon during which your book still appears as a free book on the bestseller lists (which brings traffic to your product page) while it’s selling for $0.99.
Whether you cancel your promotion early or not (and let it end automatically at midnight PST time), the delay is still there. Since it happens anyway, why not cancel it sooner while more people are browsing the store?
Some people who look at your book during the transition to Paid charts will still buy your book despite it no longer being available for free, which will result in bonus sales you wouldn’t otherwise get at midnight.
Please note again that you don’t want to advertise the third day of the promotion anywhere. You don’t want to abuse promotional sites by saying your book is free for the entire day when you’ve canceled it around noon.
By getting at least several thousand downloads and canceling your promotion early, you should get a few dozen sales on the same day. It should be enough to land your book in the Hot New Releases in one or both selected categories, which will start driving some organic sales.
However, to make this strategy even more powerful, you should still incorporate the advice from the paid launch route.
The key to a successful paid launch is to ensure your book sells as many copies as possible every single day for the first 7-10 days. You do it by setting your price to $0.99 for a limited time (aforementioned 7-10 days) and using book promotion services such as:
Note: these sites change all the time. Some lose their effectiveness, new sites replace the old ones, etc.
You won’t make a return on your investment in these services right away. However, the consistent sales you can generate with these services will greatly increase your chances of launching a long-term bestseller.
It’s important to schedule each ad on a different day. You’re after consistency in sales, not a one-off spike. If you start your paid launch on Thursday, you schedule BargainBooksy.com for Thursday, ReadCheaply.com for Friday, BuckBooks for Saturday, etc.
This is also a good time to schedule any guest posts and other promotions like tweets and posts from your friends, colleagues, etc.
If you have your own list, start your promotion by sending out an email to your readers. To entice them to buy your book, consider a giveaway for buyers.
The simplest way is to offer an Amazon gift card to one randomly chosen person who enters your giveaway. You can use Gleam.io to set it up. To verify a person bought your book, you can ask them to enter the first or the last word from a chosen chapter, e.g. “enter the first word from Chapter 20.”
If your book is off the free promotion, you don’t advertise it to your list. It’s only fair to let your subscribers know about your new release during the free promotion phase, not after it. You still schedule ads for your $0.99 period because there are different sites for a free promotion and different sites for a $0.99 promotion.
Your goal during the $0.99 launch is to get as many sales as possible every single day. Buck Flogging writes in his post at Archangel Ink’s blog “How to Write a Nonfiction Bestseller” that getting 500 sales is a prerequisite for having a chance to have a long-term bestseller.
From my experience, it’s not necessary to have exactly 500 sales or more, though the more you get, the better your chances. Even if you only manage to get 100-200 sales on your own, it can still be enough to help you launch a book that will keep selling 5+ copies a day for at least the next few months.
If you continue building your list, each launch will be better because you’ll be able to drive more initial sales from your list alone. Authors with several thousand people on their list are pretty much guaranteed to launch a long-term bestseller each time they release a new title (all the basics still apply, though).
Short answer: no.
Long answer: in most cases, your time, money and energy is better spent either writing and launching a new book, or relaunching your book as a new edition with a new ASIN and ISBN, new title, cover, and ideally updated content.
As I already explained before, the first 30 days of sales on Amazon are crucial. The first month can serve as a benchmark – if your book is doing relatively well during this period, it should keep selling for at least a few months. If your book didn’t sell many copies during this period, you can pretty much forget about it (unless it’s a part of a series and your first book is permafree, but that’s an entirely different topic).
While self-publishing is not exactly a numbers game, releasing more works is a better choice than trying to resurrect your old titles. Amazon invests much more marketing effort into new books that sell well instead of old, non-performing titles.
There are two main strategies to keep your book alive, but only one of them is universal for all authors. It’s not a huge secret and it’s nothing sexy, either – it’s just consistently releasing new titles. Each time you publish a new book, it should boost the sales of the other titles in your catalog.
That’s why it’s so important to stick to the same genre and ideally make all your books similar to each other. A person who enjoys one of your titles will be more likely to read your other similar works. Each new title you release is another chance to hook your new readers and make them buy your entire catalog or at least a part of it.
Short-term promotions can boost your sales for a while, but they rarely produce long-term effects. As we’ve already covered, Amazon rewards consistency (especially during the first month) and not one-off sales spikes.
The other main strategy focuses mostly on fiction authors. If you write series, you can make the first title permafree. By periodically running ads to your permafree book, you will keep your series alive for longer because a part of the readers hooked by the first part will buy your second book (and then hopefully the remaining ones as well).
Non-fiction authors could adapt this strategy by making one of their books permafree as well. Since it’s more difficult to tie non-fiction books together, this strategy usually doesn’t work as well as fiction series. There are no definitive answers, though. Everything is worth testing, and it’s possible you can do well as a non-fiction author with this strategy.
There’s a third, lesser known, strategy to keep your book selling for longer if it’s still selling well after the first month or two. You release an audiobook with ACX and give away all 25 complimentary download codes to your readers in exchange for their honest reviews.
If your audiobook starts selling (and with the initial push, a couple of reviews, and your Kindle book still occupying the bestseller lists, it should), your book will yet again appear in the Hot New Releases on Amazon (as an audiobook, though). Since all book formats are displayed on the same product page, having your audiobook for a month as a Hot New Release should also increase the sales of your Kindle book for the next 30 days.
Does this process guarantee you’ll have a book selling many copies over the next few months? Unfortunately, no. Disappointed? Sorry, that’s the reality you have to accept. There are many factors affecting the success of your book, and the approach explained in this article can only increase your chances of long-term sales, not guarantee them (and you can still have a flop even if you follow this process to a T).
Moreover, no matter how well you do your launch, your book will NOT keep selling the same number of copies for years to come. There are thousands of new titles released every single day, and they all compete for the bestseller lists.
Most self-published authors should be happy if their book keeps selling for the next few months at a relatively stable level, losing maybe 10-20% of sales each month. If you want to build your writing career, you can’t expect to live off one book, anyway.
As an example, your book can make $1000 in the first month, $1500 in the second (due to the increase in the price since for the first 7-14 days your book was be either free or $0.99), $1200 in the third and then earn $200-300 less or so with each month.
That’s why it’s so important to be consistent as an author. Very few authors can afford taking more than a few months off. The ones who consistently write are the ones who occupy the bestseller lists for long periods of time. They continually feed the market with more works, thus increasing their chances of getting discovered by new readers who will buy their previous works as well.
If you keep adding more titles to your catalog, each new release will increase the sales of your previous titles, thus saving your books from total obscurity and letting you enjoy long-term sales.