On September 15, 2003, I set out to crack the Amazon.com top 100 with my book Principled Profit. It started out that day with a rank of 1,558,475. Less than 24 hours later, it was #83 overall, and #12 for business books.
To achieve this, I recruited newsletter publishers such as David Frey of Marketing Best Practices and Eva Rosenberg of Tax Mama, among others. I subscribe to many newsletters, and I often jot a quick note if I like an article or see a way I can work with the editors, so these were people who already knew my name. I offered them a chance to “help make publishing history” by running this announcement:
Help Make a Best-Seller
Shel Horowitz’s Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First is a book that roots business success in honesty, integrity, and quality–and in cooperation, rather than competition. Shel wants your help in breaking into the Amazon bestseller list. If you purchase the book using the link below on Monday, September 15, Shel will send a free copy of the e-book version, with 92 hotlinks. Preview the book at <http://www.principledprofits.com>; order on the 15th at <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0961466669/globalartstravel>. Then send Shel a copy of your receipt: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=AmazonBuyIn
I also offered the newsletter publishers copies of my books if their readers purchased at a certain level.
What I Wanted; What I Got
I had three goals for my Amazon buy-in day, which I dubbed a virtual book-signing:
1. To inform at least 200,000 people about the book
2. To break the Amazon top 100 and thus permanently get out of the cellar
3. To prove that a really good self-published book could achieve this without bribing people with sizable bonus packages. This last is important. During the past year or so, some authors have achieved temporary greatness on Amazon by offering bonuses with stated values in the hundreds of dollars.
My goals emphatically did not include trying to “fool” Amazon or anyone else. In fact, the press release was worded to avoid that. I made it plain that the book’s bestseller status was temporary. And I do not plan to sticker it with an announcement that it was a bestseller for a day.
How did I do?
Goal #1. I’m pretty sure I met this one. I got a huge writeup in a newsletter with 100,000 circulation, a solo mailing with a ringing endorsement from a newsletter with 44,000 circulation–which sold close to 40 books for me!–plus mentions on my own lists, which reach around 13,000 people, and in various other publications, some with circulations in five figures. As an extra treat, I got orders from at least eight different countries.
Goal #2. Yes. Going from that bottom-bottom place to #83 is a powerful accomplishment. But the best part was that the book floated in the 8,000s—9,000s for a month afterward, a significant ranking out of several million titles in the database.
Goal #3. Yes again. I offered only one bonus, which had content identical to a portion of the printed book. Its searchability and clickable hotlinks were attractive, but no one would have bought the book for the bonus.
While the book’s top 100 ranking was fleeting, it really felt like bringing the bookstore community into cyberspace, and it was better attended than any flesh-and-blood bookstore appearance I’ve ever done. I’m still seeing residual sales.
Still, I’ve learned a few things for the next time:
Notify Amazon, so they’ll have enough copies in the pipeline. Inexplicably, they refused to order a case for weeks afterward–even though they had more orders for more than a case worth.
Set up the e-book version as a password-protected download. Not everyone can receive large attachments successfully.
Have the press release ready to go before the event. I missed my opportunity to get written up in Publishers Weekly because I spent so much time agonizing over the wording of the press release; and while I was dithering about it, someone else did an Amazon event and got the writeup. This is ironic because I make a good chunk of my living writing press releases for other publishers.
Oh, yes, the press release. When I finally sent it out, it generated interest from about 70 percent of the (few and carefully chosen) recipients within the publishing trade. I also put a search-engine-optimized version on the book’s Web site, which currently comes up #3 and #4 in a search for “virtual booksigning” on Google.
Shel Horowitz is also the author of Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World and four other books. For a free subscription to his Monthly Frugal Marketing Tips, please visit www.frugalmarketing.com.