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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can You Turn Your Book into a Best-Seller?

Today I'm pleased to present another guest post from freelance author David Robinson.

David reveals how an article he read online changed his views on book marketing, and led him to try a new approach with his latest self-published book and e-book, Flatcap - Grumpy Old Blogger (pictured).

* * *

We're all familiar with the standard online sales page, which outlines in glowing terms whatever it is we're being urged to buy.

The correctly constructed page tells us what we'll get, yet reveals no secrets. It tells us why we need it, what it will do for us, then goes on to include a range of testimonials, and in some cases an image of a bank statement purporting to show the seller's recent earnings. Finally, the seller will include various bonuses to induce a quick decision. Buy now and I will throw in FREE OF CHARGE... I've bought many such publications for the bonuses alone.

This method has been around a lot longer than the internet. Back in the 1980s, I was trading my publications by mail order using similar techniques.

Effective? It works, certainly, but nowadays many buyers have become inured to the hyperbole and they're saying to themselves, "Yeah, yeah, I've heard I all before. Just get to the price." Lately, I've come across a number of such sites trying to get around that by hiding the price until the "buy" button is clicked. IMHO, that is bad practice. If I can't see a price, I ask myself, "What do they have to hide?"

However, I digress.

A week or two back I came across the tale of a book: The Confessions of a GP. Published traditionally, it was a steady little seller. Nothing mega, not setting the world on fire, just earning the publishers and author a few hundred pounds here and there.

Then they put it out as an e-book and it sold 100,000 copies in a year.

What makes this more surprising is that the publisher and author broke many of the hallowed rules. The writer was unknown, he had no backlist, they did very little marketing and the price was above the accepted norms of $2.99 or $0.99. The book went viral through the best form of publicity: word of mouth, or in this case, virtual word of mouth. People bought it, read it, reviewed it, and recommended it.

To keep this in perspective, this was a general title. We all have a doctor, so the target audience was everyone. I produce detective fiction, sci-fi and some sledgehammer humour. Nick produces works aimed at those who fancy running their own small business or would like to earn their living as a writer. By comparison, our target areas are quite narrow. Are there more than 100,000 people in this world who want their own business? Are there more than 100,000 fans of detective fiction in the world? More than 100,000 fans of grumpy old man humour? The answer to all three questions is "yes" - so what happened to The Confessions of a GP could happen to any title.

Naturally, there was some marketing. The publisher was quite active on social sites like Twitter and Facebook in the launch phase. But there were no major write-ups in the press, no huge publicity campaigns, and no lengthy sales pages, with or without the price.

This is a remarkable story, but is it really so surprising? Perhaps not. Many authors, among them John Locke, the first independent to sell over a million titles, report that their books were slow to take off, but suddenly hit a tipping point, from where they began to sell in their thousands and they didn't stop. Sales seem to take on a life of their own. The difference is how the book reaches the tipping point. For most it is a matter of targeting and grinding out the marketing, but The Confessions of a GP side-stepped that process.

Is it possible to emulate the book's success? I don't know, but in an effort to find out, I'm following a similar process with one of my titles. I'm not looking to place copies on review sites, I'm not plugging it on every imaginable site, and the blog post I used to launch the title was a deliberate lampoon of the tried and tested sales flyer, right down to the free offer: Buy now and you will receive, free of charge... nothing at all.

Beyond that, I'm putting out the occasional plug on Twitter and Facebook, and as reviews come in, I will use them as pointers to the title on the Amazon Kindle.

A year from now, maybe I'll be back telling you how Flatcap - Grumpy Old Blogger sold over 100,000 copies.

Byline: David Robinson is a freelance writer and novelist and self-publishes a range of fiction, non-fiction and humour on Smashwords and the Amazon Kindle. You can find him at

* * *

Many thanks to David for another thought-provoking post. Do take a look at the interesting article he refers to about The Confessions of a GP as well.

It does seem to me that the "tipping point" concept David refers to is especially important when selling online. On Amazon, for example, once your book's sales reach a certain level, it is more likely to appear in their "You might also like..." recommendations, biggest mover and category best-seller lists, and so on. A sort of "virtuous circle" then kicks in, where this additional publicity drives more sales, the book then gets even more publicity from the retailer, sales increase again, and so on.

Admittedly, this means that it can be quite hard for unknown authors to break in to the big time - but once the sales do start to come, potentially a snowball effect can develop, propelling you (with luck) all the way into the best-seller lists. Of course, it helps a lot if you've written a good book as well!

Good luck to David with Flatcap - Grumpy Old Blogger - I'll be following its progress up the best-sellers list with interest. If you have any comments or questions for David (or me), please do post them below.

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Blogger Phil said...

Great post, David. It seems to me that the inexplicable rise of some books which don't seem to travel any of the accepted routes to grab their audience is an area which deserves a lot more study. It could be, and this is a long shot, that they are just you know, good. I know it's received wisdom that marketers can ram anything down the throats of the public even if it's not much cop, but you make the point that actually that can work against you. These days people are MUCH more savvy and can tell when you are trying to influence them. I've calmed down a lot more in recent months from my initial flurries of trying to get the word out everywhere for the things I do. It's exhausting and unproductive for the most part. I think there is scope for someone to write a book or course which tells you how to break your book and get it to the tipping point without coming off as a spammer or just a braggart, as I think is a common failing (and I'm as guilty of that as anyone). Wonderfully lucid, honest and interesting thoughts. And not grumpy at all. Thank you.

1:31 PM  
Blogger DW96 said...

Thanks for your comment, Phil. I'd like to see someone write a book on how to do it, too :o)

Im no expert on these matters, so in the meantime, I can only try the softly softly approach an see what results come of it.

Good of you to stop by, and thanks, too, to Nick for giving me a platform.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Maybe Nick should put it on his doubtless extensive "to do" list :) "28 Ways of Promoting Your Book To The Tipping Point... And Beyond!" I can see it all now...

10:25 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

I'm on the case, Phil ;-)

Actually, though, WCCL do already have a guide along these lines called The Best-Seller Secret (see banner ad above). This sets out a detailed strategy for getting your book into the Amazon best-sellers list. It does involve a bit of time and effort, but WCCL supremo Karl Moore has used it successfully to get two of his own books into the Amazon best-sellers list, so it does definitely work.

Hope life is treating you well, and your own writing and other creative projects are thriving.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Ah I had a premonition there would be something in the works, :) I shall look out for that. Yes, I am very fine and just working on my course, Writing FIt, and when it's ready I shall naturally send you all the details and review materials so you can spread the word.

11:13 AM  
Blogger kdoyle said...

Great gives those of us still in the starting gate some hope!

2:27 AM  
Anonymous Alexander said...

Great post – I’m going to Tweet about your blog.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, both. And thanks again to David for his excellent guest post.

10:17 PM  
Blogger DW96 said...

Allow me to add my thanks to Nick's readers and those who commented.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous ojmit said...

great stuff - i have recently started a blog.....1000+ views in about a week - really pleased - would love to turn it man into a bestseller........well, a man can dream.........have a look and let me know what you think

t hanks

6:34 PM  

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