I Took a Course on How to Make Your Book A Bestseller and I Think it Worked


Well, that's a long title for a blog post. That bodes ill for the length of the post itself. But let's dive into my experience with my latest novel, Flickers.

About this time last year I signed up for Tim Grahl's Launch A Bestseller course. Grahl is a book marketing expert, he's an authentic & trustworthy voice on the internet because he tells it like it is and he has a good background in the publishing industry and in getting books of a variety of types onto various bestseller charts. His website is here.

Flickers, my middle grade suspense novel, was going to be out in just about a year and since his course suggested a nine-month program to prepare for launch day it was perfect timing for me to get me some "bestselling" learning. I ante'd up the money and dove in. All I'd every really done in terms of a national launch was to post on Facebook or Twitter when the cover was released then post again on the actual day the book came out. I, too, would dutifully inform my email newsletter subscribers. And I'd do an in person launch in my local bookstore. But this course forced me to have a plan.

I won't go into great detail about the contents of the course other than the focus was to reach out to influencers (people you know or would like to know in the industry), to build your email "following" and then really aim at promoting the book for the final month before it was released. The idea is that you want people to pre-order the book and therefore those sales, which have been accumulating for a few weeks, will all count on book release day and that will place your book higher in a variety of in-store lists across the country and launch you onto the national bestseller lists (charts, of course, work differently in different stores, from Amazon to Indigo to independent stores and quite differently in different countries). Because this was the Canadian release I was only concentrating on selling the book in Canada (it is not yet available in any other countries)

I gave away free "goodies" to anyone who pre-ordered (my goodies included a PDF about the creation of the book, a director's cut chapter, audio of the first chapter & a thank you video). My email list was 1300 at the time, Facebook friends was at around 5000, and Twitter at 15,000. Of those people only 42 signed up for the pre-order goodies. That was much lower than I expected but you do have to remember that those 42 are my superfans and many of them were purchasing multiple copies. They went into a variety of stores across the country (or online) and ordered the book which meant that the stores would order more copies. I also did find out that many (I didn't have an adequate way to poll this) ordered the books but didn't bother with the freebies (some said they didn't want any aspect of the story spoiled by spoilers that might be in the giveaway). 

As I said, my normal launch modus operandi was to mention the book once in awhile online then a few times on the actual day it was released. What all of this pre-sales "talk" did was allowed me to stretch out that promo and create more buzz than usual. I was also going to be launching the "real" book at a theatre in front of about 500 students (that deserves another post) and had set up a website so that parents could pre-order the book (this also added to pre-sales, of course). 

The book debuted at #4 on the juvenile bestseller lists for Independent Bookstores. It did get momentum because two weeks later it was the #10 book overall on that same list (overall means that it was competing against all the books in the bookstore). I couldn't track sales in Chapters but on Amazon.ca it went as low as 500 overall (Amazon doesn't add up the pre-sales on launch day, it just keeps track of them as they are bought, so it's harder to go up the charts). And I won't get the actual number of copies sold until my publisher sends me my royalty statements.

So I'm left with a bit of a jumbled study. And there's no way to measure this against past success because, well, I wasn't so good at measuring past success. Plus, I would have to launch the exactly same book without the promo. I am mostly certain that none of my novels had made the top ten overall list before. So I'm very happy with that. I also have the support of HarperCollins Canada and their mighty sales team, so my sense is that their "sales" heft along with my own launch program gave the book its best chance possible to succeed.

Things I learned in no particular order:

1). Launching a book is work. From writing emails, to contacting bookstores, to building my subscriber base for my newsletter. It was very time consuming. But all that work paid dividends now and will continue to do so in the future.

2) Put on your "sales" hat in a clever way. There's nothing more boring than an author shouting "buy my book." So I was often looking for new ways to get that information across. And, at the same time, trying to be genuinely helpful to people.

3) Your fans don't mind hearing from you more than once. My newsletter usually comes out once a month but I sent eight emails in the six weeks leading up to launch day (first teasing the "goodie" pre-sale, then promoting it, and finally sending out a launch day email). I did lose subscribers (which is normal), but generally readers were excited by my excitement, so to speak, and understood that the emails would slow down once the book was out.

4) Launch Teams are a great help. I formed a launch team by asking for "joiners" on social media and my email list. Their only duties were to post about the book two days before it came out and again on launch day. I made a "share" page so that they didn't even have to write the posts (in other words I wanted to make it as easy as possible for them to share). And I sent them reminders on those days, so they didn't have to put it in their calendars. 46 people signed up and those posts were instrumental in getting the word out and building buzz.

5) I now have a great template for my next book launch. Ummm...I better start writing that book. Now!

Overall, I'm pleased with what I learned from the course and how I was able to apply it specifically to my book launch. I'll continue to use the method that I learned, tweaking it here and there.

Thanks for tuning in. As I said I can't be entirely sure about my sales numbers until I get my royalty statement from HarperCollins. And I'll be waiting with baited (or is it booked?) breath until that day.


A List of Weird Things I Researched For This Latest Book: Flickers

Flickers will be released tomorrow! Get the pre-order goodies if you're so inclined (it's the last day). Here's a list of all the weird and sundry things I researched.

1. The History of Lethbridge, AB

2. Why do people float on water when dead but sink when they are alive?

3. Slang of the 1920s.

4. Fashionable 1920s Swimwear:

6. Early Movie Make-up

7. Hearst Castle

8. The first horror film.

9. The Awesome Buster Keaton

10. How to Start a Model T Ford

And somehow it all turned into a novel called Flickers!


Launching A Book In A Movie Theatre (the prequel)

Well, I haven't been this excited about a book launch in years! When I launch Flickers on May 11th (at 7PM) it will be in a 500 seat 1930s era theatre here in Saskatoon. Yes, I'll be playing clips from silent films. There will be a bit o' Nosferatu. And Chaplin. A talk about the roaring 20s and a few readings from the book.

 Interior of theatre...

Interior of theatre...

 the magical projector...

the magical projector...


Yesterday I got to test out the theatre. WOW. Talk about a glorious ol' building. And a glorious sound system. This is a big step up from the 100's of gyms I've presented in.



 Flickers on the big screen...

Flickers on the big screen...

It really looked and sounded perfect. In the afternoon of the 11th there will be 500 students here for the "school" launch. Then I hope that everyone in the world comes to the evening launch for the public.

Yep, I'm jazzed!



Oh, and I did take a moment to play Clash of Clans on the big screen:

Writers: Using Giveaways to Build your Newsletter/Email List

One of the latest "trending" theories on book promotion is the idea of creating a newsletter/email list so that you can communicate directly with your fans. Part of the reason there's been a movement towards this is that Facebook and Twitter are so "busy" now. If you post on your own Facebook "like" page about 16% of your "fans" will see the post. You need to pay to "boost" the page to the rest of your followers (Clever move, Facebook). And I've seen numbers as low as (or even lower than) 5% of Twitter followers see a tweet. Like I said, it's busy out there.

So an email list is a way of reaching out directly to readers. And more writers are catching on to this (which is why there are so many pop-ups and email boxes on writer websites these days). I've experimented with pop up boxes on my website with some success. But you have to drive traffic to get sign ups and that can be difficult and time consuming. And frankly, I like writing books instead.

My most recent attempt is to use a giveaway to encourage fans (or potential fans) to sign up. With the generosity of my publisher, who gave me five "adventure" books to giveaway, I ran two contests. One was with Rafflecopter where people could enter to win but if they joined the email list they'd get an extra entry. I ended up with 88 entries.

I ran the exact same "Adventure" prize a few months later, but this time used the KingSumo Giveaway Plugin (on Wordpress). I had read a rather amazing (and somewhat alarming) account of one person using the app and getting 200,000 email addresses. Read it here. Of course, I didn't expect to get that many. The way KingSumo Giveaway works is that in order for people to enter for the prize they need to sign up to your newsletter. That's made clear on the contest rules, so it isn't a surprise when they get an email from you. And it's also made clear that they can unsubscribe at any time. The clever thing about KingSumo is that if someone enters the contest then they receive a special link that they can email, Facebook, or tweet. And if other people click on that link and enter the contest, the original entrant gets more entries (3 in the case of my last contest). It's a way to reward people for sharing the contest. In other contests every time you share it and more people enter then your odds of winning go down. This gives each entrant a way to stack the odds in their favour. And it can help build buzz about the contest.

The key is to pick a prize that will attract the type of people who would be interested in your writing. So I didn't give away a Cadillac. Or two hundred golden ducks. Instead I gave away the Adventure Prize Pack that you see above. 

And here were the results:

So 175 people entered. Because several of them shared that magic link there were 229 entries in total. And one person won (and I tell you, he was overjoyed!). I imported all of them into my newsletter list (I use Mailchimp) and ended up with 103 new subscribers (the other 72 were already subscribed). I sent them all a "hello" letter and explained that they were welcome to unsubscribe, but also mentioned how hilariously funny my Somewhat Clever Newsletter is (click here if you want to find out for yourself). Three people unsubscribed. Since my biggest month of signups was just under 100 people, this was a success in my books. 

One caveat, I did spend $75 on Facebook ads. So that cost, added to the cost of shipping books, makes this whole experiment about $100. Or a dollar per new subscriber. Next time I'll skip the ads and see what happens. (Actually speaking of next time; I am doing another giveaway at this moment: A Writing Critique Giveaway, contest ends April 8th, 2016).

Anyway, that was my experiment with KingSumo Giveaways. Thanks for tuning in!