Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Making of a Bestseller

You've undoubtedly heard the expression, "overnight success," right? It's one of those things people say when someone comes out of nowhere and does something noteworthy. Sometimes it's meant as a compliment and sometimes it's not, but I think it's safe to say almost no one ever means it literally.

Except me, right now. I literally became a bestselling author overnight.

I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it's true. Here's how it happened:

My thriller, THE LONELY MILE, was released back in July in ebook format by StoneHouse Ink. I promoted the hell out of that book every way I could think of - blog tour, Facebook and Goodreads advertising, Kindle Nation Daily sponsorship. You name it, I tried it.

And for the first month-and-a-half the book sold decently, although it was far from making a splash on Amazon's radar, or anyone else's, for that matter.

In September, sales lagged, and in October, they picked up a bit with the release of THE LONELY MILE's trade paperback edition. November and December came and went with the book not really selling much. A copy one day, a couple of copies the next.

Along about then I heard of Amazon's newest strategy: The Kindle Select Program. In it, an author could agree to make his or her book exclusive to Amazon for at least ninety days, and in exchange, the author would receive up to five days of free promotion. The only catch was that the author had to agree to make his book free for the length of the promo.

I thought it was stupid. Why the hell would I give my book away? What possible benefit could there be? The idea of making my book exclusive to Amazon for three months didn't bother me - my sales were lower at the other outlets even than they were at Amazon. But the thought that there might be some benefit to giving my work away made no sense at all.

Then I began reading reports from other authors, people with more guts than I, who were willing to give it a shot. The reports were all basically the same: Make your book free for anywhere from one to all five days, and when you start charging again your sales will spike for a while.

It still didn't make any sense to me, but by now it was mid-January and sales of THE LONELY MILE were still averaging around thirty per month. One a day, give or take.

Being the sharp-witted guy I am, it occurred to me that risking sales of one book a day for a few days would be pretty painless, given the potential for a sales spike which might follow. I talked to my publisher, Aaron Patterson at StoneHouse Ink, and he enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

He set up the Kindle Select free promo of THE LONELY MILE to run for two days last weekend, Saturday and Sunday. I figured the book would be downloaded by maybe five hundred brave souls, maybe even - gasp! - a thousand, and then we would resume charging for the book and instead of a sale a day, we might see five or ten a day.

Then all hell broke loose. THE LONELY MILE started Saturday at something like #11,000 free in the Kindle Store. Then it started climbing. By Saturday afternoon in had landed on the Top 100 Free list, and by the time I went to bed Saturday night it was #2 on the list.

Sunday morning I woke up and discovered it was #1 free in the Kindle Store and it stayed there all day. Aaron suggested we ride the wave and extend the promotion another day, into Monday. We did, and the book spent a good portion of the day at #1 before beginning to lose steam, finishing Monday at #5 Free.

We decided it was time to end the promo and begin charging for the book again. The final tally was 42,000 downloads of my thriller over the course of three days, and an untold amount of free (literally) promotion.

I was ecstatic, as you might imagine. The thought of gaining 42,000 potential fans was intoxicating. However, I was still uncertain what to expect once the book was no longer free.

Well, here's what happened. Tuesday morning, THE LONELY MILE started the day ranked at #13,612 paid in the Kindle Store. Those 42,000 downloads were nothing but a happy memory.

Then the book started climbing in the Paid rankings, this time thanks to interested readers forking over their hard-earned cash for my work. Within one hour, the book was ranked #5529, and by noon it stood at #453. We entered the Top 100 at 5:00 pm and continued climbing.

As I write this, THE LONELY MILE stands at #22 in the Kindle Store, #15 in Fiction and #2 in Suspense Thrillers, sandwiched between Lisa Gardner and John Grisham. It's a thriller writer's wet dream. We sold 6000 copies of the book in the first two days after the free promo ended. That's compared to one (1) sale in the two days prior to the promo.

To say I'm flabbergasted would be an understatement. I'm stunned, amazed and extremely, eternally grateful to everyone who has shown an interest in my work, both when it was offered for free and in the three days since.

I'm working hard to maintain my newfound success and build on it, and to prove myself worthy of the vote of confidence people have shown in this novel. I wish I could thank, individually, every single person who has taken a chance on a mostly unknown author, not to mention StoneHouse CEO Aaron Patterson, a guy who has made a living out of understanding the potential of ebooks, and is now helping me do the same.

So there you go. I think it's safe to say there was definitely a spike in sales thanks to giving stuff away, and I fully expect that spike to continue for the foreseeable future. I'll keep you updated as this Big Adventure continues.

*P.S.: THE LONELY MILE is an international bestseller, too, currently ranked #80 in the Kindle Store at Amazon UK, and #6 in Suspense Thrillers. Thanks very much, Merrie Olde England! I continue to shake my head in amazement.


Dani said...

That is so awesome!!! Congratulations! It's your writing that did it, the ability to drag a reader in, kicking and screaming, because we just can't turn away. I am patiently (not really, being patient sucks!) waiting for your latest to be available for the Nook. :)

Congrats! You deserve it!!
I am going to blog about this today, maybe get you some more readers.

Jo said...

And Ron say's..."To think, I used to eat pizza with that man."

Congratulations Al. I am so Thrilled for you.

Paul D Brazill said...

Congratulations mate!