Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How My Book Became an Amazon Bestseller (for 3 Days)

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the merits of the Amazon KDP Select Program, which allows authors with e-books available exclusively on Amazon to offer them for free for a limited time. In the past, I learned, the free days of these promotions (maximum of 5 days during every 90 day period) resulted in a significant rise in the books' rankings when they went back on sale. Since then Amazon has changed its algorithms, so some authors claim there are no advantages of a free offering.

Why did I even consider making Valley of Thracians available for free? The book was published at the end of January. Sales during the first six weeks were not encouraging. Despite my efforts to promote my book via email, on Facebook and Twitter, through guest posts on other blogs, and even in a newspaper interview, I had failed to generate enough marketing buzz to sell the book. In short, readers didn’t even know that the book existed.

Get the book to as many readers as possible

My immediate goal was to get the book into the hands (and Kindles) of as many readers as possible. This would result in additional reviews posted on Amazon and Goodreads, and that would create the buzz that would generate future sales.

Following the advice of self-published author Joe Konrath, I decided to run a five-day free promotion in mid-March. EBookBooster listed my book at 50 websites, blogs, and newsletters that provide readers with information about free Kindle books. I patiently waited for the promotion to begin.

What were my expectations of the free promotion? One author told me that the average number of downloads was 800 copies. "We're just a droplet in the ocean of free Kindle books," she told me. Another author, I learned, had given away 30,000 copies of a suspense novel in a 2-day promotion. I won't even mention how successful Konrath has been, as he has a long list of titles and always has something available for free on Kindle.

The first day of my promotion arrived. I kept checking my book's Amazon page, waiting for the price of the Kindle edition to drop to $0. Finally, the book was available for free. I posted an announcement on my blog, which also appeared in my Facebook news feed, and waited for downloads to begin.

Valley of Thracians is a suspense novel, so it might not appeal to all readers. On the first day of the promotion, a total of 494 copies were downloaded, which led to its being ranked in 523rd place on the Free for Kindle bestseller list at Amazon. I was quite pleased.

The second day was a Friday. Another 300 copies were downloaded, raising the rank of the book into the top 200. I had hit nearly 800 downloads, which was average. Maybe I would reach 1,000?

A bestseller is born

On Saturday, I got very lucky. My free Kindle book was featured in the EReaders News Today newsletter, which is mailed to tens of thousands of readers. Many of these readers were intrigued by Valley of Thracians. They downloaded, and the book climbed higher and higher in the ranks.

Valley of Thracians peaked in 27th place on the overall Free for Kindle bestseller list. At one time it was running neck and neck with the Bible, which is worthy competition.

In the Suspense category, the book was ranked in 1st place for two days, until it was dethroned by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, which was offered for free as part of the marketing campaign for Brown's upcoming new novel.

After five days, the free promotion ended and Valley of Thracians again went on sale at its regular price. I went to my Kindle author's dashboard to see the final number of downloads of the book. Even though the promotion had ended, the number kept rising, until Amazon's records were fully synced. Not only were there downloads at Amazon.com, there were also downloads at Amazon's sites in the UK, Canada, Italy, Spain, Germany, and France. There was even one free download at Amazon in Japan.

The final number of free downloads of Valley of Thracians was 8,440. This was much higher than I could have ever expected. My book was an Amazon bestseller! It was being read, or at least it was available to be read, on Kindles all over the world. I felt a huge sense of satisfaction in this accomplishment.

What happens next?

The book sold a few dozen copies through the end of March, and then the buzz of the promotional campaign finally died out. But the results are continuing to appear, weeks later. The book now has 14 favorable reviews on Amazon, and it appears on many "To Be Read" bookshelves at Goodreads. I have received many compliments on the book, including from Bulgarians who said that they learned a lot about Bulgaria from reading it.

I fully believe that the results of my five-day promotion in March will continue to be felt for many weeks to come, in ways that I cannot yet imagine. I never expected that Valley of Thracians would become an international bestseller. Offering it for free on Kindle gave me an incredible, unforgettable experience.

Related article:

How I Sold 910 Copies of My Book in One Week


  1. So glad you've had success with this, Ellis. I'm inspired! Congrats. :)

  2. Hi Ellis,

    Such a wonderful post and congrats on your success!

  3. ooh, very encouraging and I'd not heard of ebook booster, thanks :)

  4. Great information, Ellis. And encouraging, too! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thanks for sharing your recent experience with a free days promotion. I haven't done it in quite a while and am glad to hear it still works.

  6. Thanks you so your post, it's very good =))))

  7. Great post. Did you pitch it to Ereaders news today or did they pick up on their own randomly?
    that is so cool. I'm not sure how the promotional stuff for my book will work yet. I know they won't do the free ones, but as far as the other stuff, not sure. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Very cool! Congrats and wish you continued much more success.
    Question: Doesn't this cost You for all these free ebook giveaways? Nicolette.tateauthor.com

  9. Very interesting article about the lasting benefits of offering a book for free. Companies use freebies all the time as a marketing technique, so nice to hear it worked out well for you!

  10. I have asked people if it is better to do free days or countdown deals. Nobody has been able to answer me. Until now. Thank you for this as it is very helpful.

  11. Am VERY new to nonfiction self publishing. I found Free Promotion better than Countdown. My message needs to be spread so this works for me. When my next book comes out on a more popular subject I might try Countdown again

  12. That's a great story - thanks for sharing and congratulations to you!!