I first met Tony at a writer’s conference in 2010. Neither of us remember much about the encounter, which is a testament to the hard working bar staff of York University.
I was trying to snag an agent for my historical novel, and he was hitting the same brick wall with his account of his exotic adventures in Ecuador. When I heard Tony was self-publishing, I was delighted, as I knew how hard he had worked the traditional route, with no joy.
I also knew that if his book was half as funny as he was, he had a hit on his hands. He posted a sample from the beginning of the book near the end of May. As soon as I read that, I knew I would be buying his book.
It came out last Friday, and I grabbed a copy straight away. It’s hilarious, and touching. A very human, and very funny story. And if you don’t want to take my word for it, here is another sample from the middle of the book.
Tony was planning some fireworks for his launch day, but was very cryptic about it. When I saw him race up the charts on his very first day, I knew I was going to have to get him to tell the story of how he did it.
Well, the dust has finally settled after my launch on July 1st. By quite a margin in fact – it’s practically August! Alas, not everything moves at digital speed and I have been at the mercy of more fundamental forces recently.
Here’s a description of my launch day, followed by some figures and a bit of analysis. I was going to call it a ‘brief’ description, until I’d finished it. Then I realized it’s about as brief as War and Peace, and not quite as riveting – so feel free to skip ahead or skim read! I’ll probably never know…
I was planning a truly epic day of promotion for the launch of THAT BEAR ATE MY PANTS! I’d hardly slept in a week, sitting up till 6:00 am, planning strategy, and creating lists of people, groups and sites to target.
I’d done almost everything on my own. I’m a control freak and perfectionist of the highest order, so delegation isn’t really in my nature. But my family would never let me do something like this without their support.
They decided to rent a bear costume and run around the town centre, handing out flyers and trying to draw as much attention as possible. Which I imagine is quite a lot when you’re dressed as a bear!
My sister returned from her honeymoon just in time to suggest we incorporate a gigantic pair of underpants – with her inside – into our strategy. It sounded unbeatable! If you wouldn’t take a flyer from a chick in a bear suit, how can you refuse one when it’s handed to you by a pair of y-fronts with legs?!
Wheels were set in motion. The local papers were contacted, and a couple of them even agreed to come and photograph our ridiculous stunt. Of course I would remain safe from ridicule, hiding at home with my finger on the pulse of the internet.
Then I got one of those calls that no-one wants to get; my uncle Paul, who I’ve known all my life, was on the verge of losing his battle with Motor Neurone Disease. We’d all known it was coming, but the timing (for me) couldn’t have been worse; it was fairly inconvenient for him too, as I’m sure he’d rather have lived past 65.
I threw a load of socks and t-shirts in a bag, grabbed my laptop and drove 300 miles to Manchester to hold his hand as he lay dying.
Launch day was a surreal experience. I’d stayed up all the previous night sending messages, tweaking my Author Central pages on Amazon, adding photos to the Facebook Event I’d created and pre-writing the Launch Day emails.
At midnight and one minute, I fired out the first batch of messages, figuring it didn’t matter when they were opened – as long as it was after 00:01 on July 1st, any resulting sales would count.
My plan, drawn from a series of online marketing seminars I’d attended, was to create an artificial spike in sales ranking on Amazon by getting everyone who was going to buy the book to do it on the same day – ideally outselling far more popular books with an abnormally high, one day sales extravaganza.
I got messages back within minutes. A couple of friends had stayed up late to make their purchases, which is probably for the best – some of my friends struggle to wipe their own arses, so remembering an abstract concept like buying a book before the end of the day would be setting my expectations far too high.
My first sales spurred me on, which was just as well really – I was terrified, and already considering going to bed and trying to forget the whole thing. I’d already decided not to check my sales report until the launch day was over. I had a horrible feeling it would depress me tremendously. Which it did.
I spent the day sending tweets, alternating between promotional ones with links to my book on Amazon and vain attempts to be witty, to avoid annoying too many users.
Most ‘Tweeps’ hate someone who sends out nothing but adverts for their shit. It’s like being continually SPAMmed by your best friend. What do you do if that happens? Cut him loose.
Tread lightly, I told myself, and say lots of crazy shit. That always gets folk interested! In fact, it should be a proverb.
It’s hard to say exactly what I was doing all day. I sat down in front of the computer, started typing and BAM! 20 hours had disappeared. Time was just absorbed wholesale by the process of conducting a hundred micro conversations simultaneously over Facebook messages, group threads, email, and Twitter.
And it was punctuated every couple of hours by a pause while I sat by my uncle’s bedside, stroking his hand and watching the machines force air into his lungs. “I did it, I launched my book!” I told him. “I’m gonna be famous Uncle!” I got a brief glint of his eyes and his hand trembled for a moment as he fought past the weakness to give me a shaky thumbs-up.
Back at my temporary Command Centre the messages had started to back up. Some folks had bought my book and wanted to be sure I knew it. Some had read the beginning and wanted to tell me what they thought of it. Occasionally someone I’d never heard of had entered into a dialogue after seeing on Facebook or Twitter that I’d surpassed Bill Bryson in the Kindle Travel charts.
It was true. Once people started coming home from work around 5:30pm, things had started to hot up. I’d sneaked a peak at my sales after watching my UK rank leap from 16,000 to 4,500 – only to discover that I’d sold 4 books. Including the two to my friends at midnight.
I’d been pissed off and dispirited, ignoring the silver lining – so few sales making such a difference to my rank would only mean good things as the day progressed. Instead, I walked out into the sunshine and told myself it didn’t matter; then I looked in on my uncle, and told myself there were other things that did matter.
But suddenly, like a monsoon, messages pelted into my inbox from friends who had bought the book. Everyone seemed to want to tell me about it, which thrilled me, and I spent the next few hours writing back to them all, whilst keeping up my Facebook campaigning and keeping a weather-eye on Twitter.
Soon the messages were arriving faster than I could respond to them, as congratulations on my ranking (which I hadn’t had time to check) started coming through. I’d broken into the top thousand. Impressive, considering half a day earlier I’d been practically off the board.
I could go on, but I won’t. It’s more of the same from here on in – the thrill of rising rankings, the desperate fear of slipping back again, and mountains and mountains of words – I must have typed enough to fill my next three books, just keeping up with all the messages, comments and Tweet mentions.
So, what happened? That’s the bit you really care about, eh! Can’t say I blame you. This is what I really wanted to know before I started, so that I could predict what would happen and figure out what preparation I needed to do.
(‘More’ is the answer to that last bit.)
A few people promised to promote me to their followers lists on Twitter, to their e-mailing lists and to their friends on Facebook. From all this promotion (or is this what you call cross promotion?) – I sold one book. It was to a friend of a friend, in New Zealand.
To my knowledge, my efforts on Twitter (and the re-tweets and mentions by others) netted me exactly zero sales.
I had a Facebook Event set up and personally invited 250 people. 66 joined, thereby committing to buy a copy on the day. And on the day I sold 53 copies in total.
So what did I take away from this?
Well, for one thing, sales is a tough-assed game! People hate to be sold to. If you’re clever enough, or sneaky enough, and can figure out how to sell to them without them being aware of it – well, that’s genius. Go on, bugger off, go sell insurance or something.
You have to NOT sell to people – you have to put your message out there, that you’ve written a great book, that it’s available, and that’s that. All the places I pushed hardest, the resistance grew to match any pressure I could bring to bear (without a shot gun).
People will buy YOU, not your product. Almost all of my sales went to people who know me. They supported me because I had invested time in them – not all were friends as such, but all were people I had communicated with to some degree, either in Facebook groups or various other online methods.
The only exception was a close friend of a girl I’d gone out of my way to help big time – she appreciated it enough to stick her neck out for me, and collared me one more notch on the bookshelf.
The numbers which left me alternatively elated and despairing, seem with hindsight to make perfect sense; like everything, this business is subject to the law of diminishing returns.
I tell a thousand dudes about my launch. 500 of them read the message. 100 of them get back to me and eighty of those swear blind they’ll purchase my book on the day. Around thirty-five of them actually do so.
Had I expected more? Of course. Had I expected more from my close friends and contacts? Hell yes! But it just goes to show that a sale is only guaranteed when the money is handed over.
I had emails two days afterwards, telling me ‘I tried to get it, but I didn’t have the software,’ or ‘I was working late and I forgot, should I still buy a copy?’ That’s all good.
If I’d been smarter I’d have seen this coming. Instead of contacting a thousand warm bodies at the start of the process, I’d have rounded up 5,000. From where, I’m not quite sure. But the internet has billions of users – I just need longer before the next launch to make more friends and contacts. And maybe I need to learn Chinese.
The one super cool thing I learned was… okay there were two.
The two super cool things I learned were… or was it three? Nah, just messin’.
1) I now know just how few sales it takes, in a concentrated burst, to shoot a book up the charts. In categories better populated, like Crime Thriller or Paranormal Romance, the necessary figures are likely far higher, but for me – in Humour/Animals and Travel/South America, my first handful of sales (20 or so – I have big hands) were enough to thrust me to nos. 3, 2, and later, 1.
By the end of the day (counting up to midnight that night) my small but tightly-focused sales count had sent me up the Kindle (UK) Travel Books Bestsellers chart to #7 – two places ahead of Bill Bryson’s top offering at #9.
I’d sold 53 books in one day – 46 of them in England – and my UK Amazon ranking had peaked at 450. When you think of how many big-time pros there are out there – everyone from JK Rowling, John Le Carre, and Dan Brown, to Eckhart Tolle, Paulo Coelho, and Jamie Oliver – #450 out of EVERY book on Amazon is pretty freakin’ sweet!
And I did it with so few sales it defies belief. If I’d had the time I needed, if all had gone to plan, and if every bugger who’d promised they would buy a copy had, you know, BOUGHT ONE – I’d have made around 200 sales in one day, and by my estimation would easily have busted the top 100.
Perhaps more usefully for me, I’d almost certainly have hit #1 overall in Travel. Imagine that! #1 Travel Bestseller on Amazon.co.uk - that’s an accolade no-one could have taken away from me.
I’ll still get it, mind. Just might take me a couple of months…
Perhaps most importantly, it means that if I get another opportunity to make a big, concentrated sales push – such as when a good press review comes out – I only need to make 45+ sales in one day (in the UK) to drive me back up the charts.
Had I achieved hundreds of sales I’d have been more impressed with the success initially, but it would make trying to repeat the feat a virtual impossibility. Just 45 sales in one day? Hell, I can do that again. Watch out Bill, here I come!
Oh, and there was another thing I said I’d taken away from this. Here it is:
2) I KICKED ASS! For details, see above. But it’s undeniable – mountains of wet slobbery ass! Kicked. By me. It’s one hell of a good feeling! I won’t be forgetting that in a hurry.
And that night – after trying (and failing) to repeat the coup on Amazon.com, after replying to the 300th message and realising that what I was typing didn’t even make sense to me any more – I went to bed.
It was 4am and I’d been awake for nearly 60 hours straight. 53 measly sales! I felt like I’d worked pretty hard for every one of them. But I was, technically, a best-seller.
Note: Paul passed away on July 5th, at 11:00 pm. All his family were with him. He will be greatly missed.