I’ve thrown the kitchen-sink at book marketing. I believed in each of my novels so much that I tried everything–Book readings, Blogger tours, In Store Displays, Out-of-Home Advertising, PR, Digital Marketing—you name it I’ve done it.
All of it has failed.
90% of my money and efforts were wasted. 10% worked.
And only one method has consistently worked to make my novels best sellers. Today I’ll share that approach so you don’t have to go through the same cycle of experimentation and failure.
The one book marketing approach that works
My novels have been advertised in dusty railway station kiosks in small-town India and I’ve been interviewed by esteemed publications like New York Times and Washington Post. Neither of these moved the needle. Only this 3-step methodology below has driven actual sales:
1. Write an incredible book.
2. Get 150+ genuine reviews of the book on your Amazon Page on Day 1 of launch.
3. Drive thousands of people to the Amazon page with paid advertising—and watch them convert!
I’ve written multiple articles on #1 above in my blog. For #3 above, do read this very comprehensive review of paid advertising.
For today’s blog, let’s focus on #2.
How to get 150+ Reviews of your novel on Day 1.
First off, why 150 reviews? Several studies have been conducted on the incredibly high causality between online consumer reviews and sales. In my own experimentation with Amazon reviews as a CMO of a consumer products company, I saw purchase as a percentage of page visits double with every 25 additional reviews and hit a tipping point at 100 reviews.
Hence, at a gut level, I’ve pegged the equivalent of 100 reviews in consumer products to 150 reviews in books since books are not a “need” in the same way as say, a toothbrush is, I guess. Of course, your masterpiece may well be a “need” for thirsty souls, in which case, just follow the same technique below at a slightly lesser scale to get 100 reviews!
Now let’s understand the “50% drop-off at each stage” rule I’ve learned over the last decade of publishing:
- For every 100 readers you request to review your book pre-launch, 50 will say yes.
- Among the 50 who say yes, 25 will actually read the complete book.
- Among the 25 who read the book, 12 will review it.
- For the 12 who review it, only 6 will actually post the review on the Amazon page on the first day of launch.
Net, for every 100 readers you ask, you’ll get 6 reviews on launch week. Hence to get 150 reviews on Day 1 of launch, you have to request 2,500 people to read the book before launch.
Now, these can’t be any random 2,500 people. You’re trying to find book readers who have a very strong affinity for your book genre else they’ll either never complete it or post a review which doesn’t do justice to your masterpiece.
How do you find 2,500 high-affinity readers for your book? If you’re an author, you’re likely a misanthrope loner, who can count all their friends, family and neighbors together in one or two fingers. Or maybe you’re gregarious Hemmingway and have 50 book-reading friends. Still a tad short of the 2,500 magic number, correct?
Luckily, there’s a path out.
Today, it’s being revealed.
How to find (and reach out to) 2,500 high-affinity readers for your book genre.
Here’s the three-step process, deceptively simple yet intricately complex, to execute:
1. Make a list of 100 books that are most similar to yours.
2. Identify the names and e-mail addresses of readers who’ve reviewed the book on Amazon via the Book-Targeter Tool.
3. Reach out 1:1 to the readers above with a crackling personal email requesting for a review.
Now let’s dive into each step:
1. List 100 similar books.
This is the easiest step so don’t make it too complex. And yes, of course, I understand your book is a unique, one-of-a-kind snowflake that truly has no comparison to any other snowflake out there. Still, think a tad harder and come up with “comps”, books touching on similar themes as yours. For The Yoga of Max’s Discontent, for instance I chose books that touched on each of the themes in my novel:
• International Voices: Eg, The Kite Runner.
• Spiritual Travel: Eg, Eat, Pray, Love.
• Contemporary Spirituality: Eg, The Power of Now.
• Physical Adventure: Eg, Into the void.
…and so on.
2. Identify Reviewer Name and Email Addresses.
This is the money point. Buy this unique scraper tool—incredibly helpful despite the rather hokey website—it scrapes the names and email addresses of everyone who’s reviewed the books you’ve identified above on Amazon.
Note, this is a completely unbiased recommendation. I make no money off this blog or anything I recommend on it.
Consolidate the list in an excel file and check to make sure there are no duplications in names/email addresses in the file worksheet. You don’t want to be a spammer who unwittingly reaches out to the same person twice.
3. Now reach out 1:1 to the readers above.
Draft a crackling, compelling stock email, then individually customize it with the first name and reference book as I’ve indicated in my email below. Note, this individual customization, albeit painstakingly time-consuming, is critical. Without the effort spent in individualization, you’re no different than the Herbal Viagara salesman who promises to give someone’s “bomb a longer timer” or the Nigerian prince who needs your bank account number to transfer eighteen million dollars to it.
Here’s my stock email which I customized 1:1
SUBJECT: Review Request From #1 Bestselling Indian Novelist
Dear <First Name — Customize>,
As a quick introduction, I was the #1 bestselling novelist in India in 2008 (Keep off the Grass, HarperCollins India) and 2010 (Johnny Gone down, HarperCollins India) with 200,000+ copies of my novels in print. Both novels have been optioned into major films, currently in different stages of development.
Penguin Random House publishes my first international novel, THE YOGA OF MAX’S DISCONTENT, worldwide in Spring 2016. The book is about a Wall Street investment banker who becomes a yogi in the Himalayas and is both a page turning adventure through the hidden underbelly of India and a journey of tremendous inner transformation. I was looking at books with similar themes of adventure, spirituality or international voices on Amazon and saw you had reviewed (Shantaram — Customize>.
Would you be interested in receiving a free advance review copy of my novel? We’re sharing them with a handful of interested international readers for their honest reviews in advance of The Yoga of Max’s Discontent worldwide release.
I’d be obliged if you could let me know of your interest.
The above was compelling enough for a 50% response rate, which in speaking to other writers, is relatively high for a cold outreach.
Book Review Invitation Accepted. Now What?
Congrats! The first set of reviewers has accepted your invitation to review. Here are some technical basics to convert invitations into reviews:
1. Use NetGalley to Upload your novel.
No stranger wants to open your masterpiece in a pdf/word doc format for fear of virus, nor should you send it as such given anyone can upload the book freely to the Internet.
Luckily NetGalley solves for that and most experienced reviewers are used to that format.
2. Request the readers to post on Goodreads immediately when they’re done and Amazon on launch day.
Note, Amazon doesn’t accept reviews before the book is officially in sale. So, you can request them to post on Goodreads now and Amazon when they’re done.
3. Email Accounts
If you’re reaching out to more than 100 people/day with a relatively stock email, Google can flag your account. As such, I’d recommend spreading the requests over 4 email accounts and capping them at 75 emails/day. At that rate, you can reach out to 2,500 people over one week.
Remember, the closure is always in the follow-up
Here’s an efficient follow-up strategy I’ve arrived at after some trial and errors and (horror!) being even called a spammer once:
1. Initial Request To Review:
On no response, politely remind just once after 15 days.
2. Review Posting Request:
Remind once after the reader has had the book for 30 days. Email Format below:
Just checking in to see how you are progressing with THE YOGA OF MAX’S DISCONTENT. I hope you’re finding it worthy of your time and the years of research and questing for truth that led to its writing shows in a small way. Your review means the world to me given your reading tastes so please do drop me a note when you’re done.
3. Launch Week Amazon Review Request:
Make a list of people who’ve reviewed the book on Goodreads and remind them to review the book on Amazon the day the book goes live.
Time, Logistics, and other existential questions.
Here’s a rough timeline I’d recommend for your outreach:
M-4(4 Months before Launch): Reviewer List Consolidation.
M-3: Reviewer Outreach
M-2: Reviewer Reminder
M-1: Reviews Posted on Goodreads
M (Launch Month): Reviews Posted on Amazon.
From a logistics perspective, you’re looking at an exercise that’s deceptively simple but requires meticulous planning and cataloguing. A few false steps, eg, sending an email with the wrong first name more than a few times or following-up too early—and you’ll be considered a bother, at best, and a spammer, at worst. As such, I’d highly recommend hiring assistants to help you manage this large-scale undertaking.
Aside from identifying similar books, my remote assistants from Philippines, Alina and Ruth, ran this entire exercise for me. Alina pulled the reviewer names and emails, carefully checking for duplication, and Ruth reached-out and follow-ed up 1:1 for me. Please reach out to me for their contacts if you decide to follow a similar approach.
With all this effort, how many books will you actually sell?
From all my failures, I’ve learned this one thesis about book marketing:
All you can do is give your book a push, an initial thrust.
After that, the success of the book is entirely dependent on whether the content hits a nerve in the zeitgeist.
Let me give you two contrasting examples:
Keep off the Grass, my Indian debut novel: With roughly the same approach above, I sold 5,000 copies in the 1st 2 weeks as a debutant. Post that, the novel took on its own life and sold 50,000+ copies in the 1st year, a massive number in India in 2008 when bestsellers from luminaries like Salman Rushdie etc. sold less than 10,000 copies.
The Yoga of Max’s Discontent, my debut US novel: I followed the approach above even more rigorously. Result: I sold 10,000 copies in the 1st 2 weeks. But sales stalled after that. We trickled to close the year at 25,000 copies, a below-average number for true US breakout novels. The book just didn’t cut it with the masses.
Net, all of the above is meant to give your book a critical escape velocity. You’ll likely hit a few bestseller charts in the first month and sell 5-10K copies quickly, a significant number given an average debut novel from a Top 5 publishing house sells less than 3,000 copies in its lifetime.
But will it be the perennial seller, the book that outlives you and even your reader, to resound in eternity?
No one can assure that.
All you can do is give it your all to write, then, give even more to push it out there into the uncaring abyss. And maybe, it’ll become the spark that lights up the world.
Until then, it is for us to stand and wait.
Here’s wishing you 150+ 5 Star Reviews and all the success in the world as always! Do drop me a note in the comments below if this was helpful or if I can clarify anything more.