Saturday, 5 January 2013

Going Viral on Amazon. How We Did It

I promised an update to what happens after a giveaway, and the answer is that we learnt from the experience with one book and are now on our second giveaway. It has gone viral on Amazon in the UK. By this I mean there are now downloads every second even if we do nothing to promote it. The book is Joe Stein’s crime novel Another Man’s World.

I should make it clear, in answer to some queries, that I don't count this as 'viral' because we have given away a lot of books. It has gone viral in that we don't need to do anything and the downloads are continuous. As professional publishers we can't nag individuals to take a free book to support us - people who may then let the freebie languish on their ereader or computer. We need a meaningful giveaway where we promote as we would any other book launch and people decide for themselves whether or not they want the book.

Even if you aren't thinking of a giveaway, many of these tips can be used to get a 'paid for' book high in the Amazon rankings, and getting high in the rankings is the key to going viral as potential readers and buyers find your book easily when browsing their favourite genres. I'll cover the subject of 'paid for' books' in another post and you need a much lower number of daily downloads to succeed (which is still hard to sustain).

To help authors and publishers do the same thing I’m going to explain the methods used. But first I’m going to answer a question I’ve been asked by other publishers during the giveaways. They want to know if giveaways devalue books if people start to expect books to be free.

The answer we have found is that the opposite is true. During and after the giveaways we sell more ebooks and more print books. This lasted through December after I acted as a guinea pig and we experimented with a giveaway of my novel.

December is a slow month for small publishers as buyers tend to get the books major publishers are putting huge promotional budgets into for the Christmas market, and bookshops actually return a lot of books to publishers to clear the shelves for these bestselling books. They won't accept any new books until January.

Instead we had one of our best months so far for both print books and ebooks and I’m sure the giveaway helped with this. So my conclusion is that a giveaway doesn’t devalue print books and actually leads to more sales.

The book given away also helps get the author’s name very widely known and can reach an international market if the promotion is done well, and this leads to more of their other books being sold. After the giveaway the book that was given away also continues to sell, as reviews start to make their way onto the internet later.

We have also decided that it works to keep ebook prices lower, as this not only leads to more ebook sales, but also leads to more print book sales.The royalty on an ebook at a low price is quite close to the royalty of a paperback (where the royalty is 10% of cover price due to our higher production costs) so this works out well for authors. Even at our lower price of about £1.50 the author gets a royalty of about 50p as Amazon and other costs take a third, and the rest is divided 50/50 between the author and publisher under the terms of our contract.

So, what are the techniques for getting an ebook to go viral on Amazon? First of all it has to be an excellent book as people won’t support a giveaway otherwise. I believe people know they can trust Ward Wood to be publishing good books, and they also trust Joe Stein as his crime books have good endorsements from reviewers including Crimespree Magazine. The paperback of this book sold well and has a high ranking.

So the first tip is not to give away poor quality books in order to promote your other books. This book is excellent and people downloading it are now also buying the next in the series. They are also buying more ebooks from across our list as they like this one. Don’t give away anything less than your best writing. It’s your showcase to the world. This book has been out in paperback, and it’s worth doing a giveaway once a book has had time to prove itself.

We learnt from the first giveaway that it’s vital to set a low price for the ebook, so that after the giveaway it will revert to this price and this will help keep it high in the paid Kindle rankings, as people who have just missed the giveaway will still be tempted if the price isn’t too high. The Amazon servers update slowly, so a book manages to stay high in the free Kindle rankings for about a day even if it has a price.

We also learnt the importance of being in the right categories. Amazon allows two categories for a Kindle book so we put Joe’s in Crime and Thrillers. In fact we have now learnt that you can put a book in a subcategory and it’s also in all the higher categories, so you can put a thriller in a subcategory of crime and it will also be in all the categories above that. Which means we could also put the book in a completely different category - Action and Adventure for example - but I have a feeling that might devalue how good the author is.

There are thrillers in Action and Adventure and it's easier to get a ranking in the Adventure subcategories, so if you have this kind of book you might want to consider it as a step into the rankings. The same is true of other genres and categories - research into books like yours can show how the successful authors and publishers are getting high rankings. Which categories are they in?

You can change the categories during a giveaway and it’s worth doing this if you need to as you really must get into the top 20 ranking for a category. My novel got high in Literary Fiction, while Joe’s has got high in Thrillers. Some categories are easier to get high in, and it’s worth choosing an easy-to-get-into category to help increase the downloads by making the book highly visible to people searching for books in their favourite genre. 

Thrillers is a difficult category to succeed in – it took 400 downloads a day in the UK alone to get Joe into the top 10. But you can aim for a subcategory of Thrillers and move up. For example, under Crime and Thrillers you could click on Thrillers, then another subcategory, and you would get a ranking more easily while still being in the harder categories of Crime and Thrillers. 50 downloads a day could get you a top 10 ranking in the lower subcategories. (20 downloads a day can maintain a ranking once the book reverts to 'paid' status).

Sorry if this sounds complicated but it makes sense when you are setting up your Kindle book. When choosing a category you are given a list of possibilities and when you choose fiction, nonfiction etc you are given all the subcategories. Click on them to find the subcategories of subcategories. When potential buyers look for books on Amazon they do the same thing, searching for fiction/nonfiction and then being offered subcategories. Amazon actually has one of the best methods of helping buyers search for books in their favourite genres.

The next step we took was to have a Facebook event for the launch of the giveaway (and we will also have a Facebook event for the final day), with links to the book on Amazon sites and a reminder that people don’t need a Kindle. They can download the free Kindle reading app from Amazon. It’s also important to let people know they have to use the Amazon site for their own country, or many get confused that they can’t see the offer if they click on a link to the wrong site. You do need to build a large Facebook group for an event to help get a giveaway started, and you do need to be patient as many people do want their hands to be held. The clearer your messages the better the pick-up rate of the giveaway will be and the fewer requests for help you will get.

We then sent a message to all 461 members of the Written Word social network, which is part of a voluntary project for writers I've been running for 6 years. I'm also involved in writing groups in the virtual world of Second Life and can send notices to more than 2,000 writers and booklovers there. People on Second Life are very supportive and the two bloggers who helped by writing about the giveaway are both people I have met through this virtual world.

The other steps are mainly the same ones described in my previous blog posts. One addition is that I have realised how useful Goodreads is. I am in a number of groups on Goodreads and each group has one forum to allow author/publisher promotions, so I put news of the giveaway in those. It definitely made a difference on the second day, when downloads were starting to slow down. At that point Joe was nearly in the top 100 ranking for all books on Kindle but not quite.

You can also Google websites that let you list free Kindle books and you can find quite a few of the good ones listed here. Other sites not on this list are bargainebooks, Ereader News Today, Free Kindle Books and Tips and The Cheap.

I should also have stated the obvious in my previous posts, which is that you can list your giveaway in a daily thread on the Kindle forums for your country's Amazon website. They like people to put all the giveaways in the same thread for each day, and this does also help keep the thread being bumped into first place in the forum as new posts are added.

By putting the notices on Goodreads and also getting some support from two bloggers, Colin Bell and Selby Evans, we managed to get Joe into the top 100 ranking for all Kindle books on Amazon UK. Once the book was in this top 100 the downloads started to roll in every second, at which point I think we can say it has gone viral.

Another addition to the techniques used in our last giveaway is that the book was listed on the Hot UK Deals site. We didn’t list this ourselves: somebody found the deal and listed it here and I was told about it. It’s important not to use this site to self-promote in any way as that isn't permitted, and the site lets members list good deals they find and others can rate the deal as hot or cold. The site is full of wonderful freebies and discounts so it’s very popular, and Joe’s book took off as a ‘hot’ deal due to member voting. I’m sure this has helped as his offer has stayed on the ‘Hot’ page. It has had thousands of views. Although we didn't list it, I did link to the offer in every way I could (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin etc).

When you post news of your own books on Goodreads and other forums, it's worth keeping an eye on how many views your posts get. Some groups on Goodreads are larger and more active than others. The main response we get is from a different and extremely popular website - Kindle Boards - but if you use them, do be sure only to use their Book Bazaar forum, as self-promotion isn't allowed anywhere else. The Mobile Reads forum is also good, but again it's vital only to post where author self-promotions are allowed as the admins of these sites are very quick to remove people otherwise.

You do need to be prepared to put time and effort into the initial promotion so that a book can go viral, and I find it's best to have a 5-day giveaway, the maximum Amazon allows in a season. This gives enough time to move up in the rankings, and as some books are on shorter giveaways they will vanish from above you. Of course you do need to keep a high number of downloads per day to maintain your position. Groups on Linkedin provide an extra place where you can be taking part in discussions about ebooks and talking about your giveaway or promotion.

The more of these approaches you can use in the first day, the more chance you have of getting a high ranking and going viral so the book starts to do the work itself. It's a lot to do on your own, so careful planning and others allocated to do various tasks would help. But for most of us it really is a go-it-alone process, or an author and publisher process.

Joe isn’t a self-promotional author, but he is an excellent crime author, and his book going viral does show that it can be done even by an author who shies away from the limelight. Joe did send the news to his email list, and it’s important for authors and publishers to build an email circular. We also sent the news to our Ward Wood email following.

Your email list is incredibly important, especially if you are an author, as you can encourage friends and family to support you. Just sharing the giveaway on their Facebook wall, tweeting about it, or mentioning it on a blog, will make an important contribution. Joe is an ex-boxer, like his main character Garron, and still trains teenagers who got excited about joining in with their Facebook walls once the book went viral. In fact seeing the book getting higher did get people excited about helping, and sometimes being given a book encourages people to enjoy the fun of this challenge and the thrill as a book moves up in the top 100.

One final tip I would give is that authors do need to ask people to help out with a blog or a share on Facebook and Twitter and so on, and I do the same on their behalf. We do have to be careful not to nag and spam people so I don’t push anybody. But it seems support isn’t given unless you ask. People need to be invited to take books, or to buy books, or to help with a blog. Even if you ask, you’re unlikely to get more than a few shares and retweets, and just a couple of blogs. But they can make that difference and push you up into a ranking that helps you go viral.


  1. Adele--Regarding the categories … for one of my novels, I went to the categories and clicked FICTION, then was allowed to choose two subcategories. I chose THRILLER and CRIME and that was it. No further subcategorization. I didn't see POLICE or any other choices.

    And how does one find out which category someone else's novel is in? That isn't really revealed on the Amazon page unless you're in the top 100 of some particular category.

  2. When you click on Thriller you see subcategories of Thriller. I think Police was in there, or something similar.

    The way I found the categories other people had chosen was to go to the top 100, or to go to the top ranked novels that I admire. If click on that novel and scroll down you can see which categories they are in and the ranking they have. This only appears if they are high enough in a category to get a ranking.

  3. We only managed to put Joe's book in Crime and Thrillers - our production manager does it so I didn't see. It's possible you might only be able to put the novel in Crime and Thrillers. But usually I see our novels with their ranking in two categories and with this one I only see it's ranking in one category - crime and thrillers.

    I can also see that some others seem to get rankings in various subcategories. In fact I have found Joe's book ranked in the top 10 in other categories even though this isn't listed on his book page. It is tricky and I'll look into it further as it really helps if we can work well with the categories.

  4. Thanks for sharing these useful tips. I am bookmarking this post

  5. This is excellent news for Joe, and you, and fascinating reading. Thanks!

  6. Thank you so much for this great info! I really appreciate your taking the time and trouble to share your hard-earned experiences about what works and what doesn't. God bless you!!

  7. I'm getting more ideas and will add them in another blog post. Glad it's helping.

  8. Super advice! Thank you for sharing your success story. i wish you the best with your book(s).

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  11. Note to commenters: Please don't use the comments to link to any kind of sales site, particularly if it's nothing to do with books. You can include details of sales in your profile which people see by clicking on your name.

  12. How do you request reviews on Crimespree? I have yet to find any guidelines on the site.

  13. I'll look into this for you. In general we send out a lot of review copies to magazines and wait to see which ones publish them. Some magazines don't like to be asked directly and want to decide for themselves. But some will build up a relationship with authors. Joe Stein was reviewed by Crimespree before we took him on, while he was with his last publisher, so I'd need him to tell me if they selected his book or if there was some contact.

  14. I should add that authors in some genres are especially lucky as they can join associations for their genre - romance writers' associations, crime writers' associations etc. This does let you meet with publishers and agents at conferences/conventions and also at smaller get togethers they have. Even if you aren't very self promotional, having a friendly chat with publishers and agents at a convention, or in their annual pub get together, can make your name stick in their mind. This is a great bonus for authors in these genres.

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