28 Days to 10K: How to Hit the Top 100 in the Kindle Store

Week 1 of 28 Days to 10K is in the books. For those just joining us, this is a challenge where I’m gunning to make $12,400 in fiction royalties during February 2017 – double my best month ever. This is Week 2; feel free to visit the series archives for the full run-down.

Anyway, in between revising Lightning Blade: Extended Edition and wondering how I can hit this 5-figure threshold, I’ve given some thought to these posts.

More specifically, how they can be most beneficial to you, rather than a recap of events in my writing career. The numbers are helpful, but the thought process, I think, is more instructive.

Thus, each week’s recap will serve as a standalone mini guide. The recaps/numbers will be at the bottom, if you’d like to skip ahead. But if you’d like to replicate some of what I’m doing, then read along. Additionally, if you stumble upon these far after the challenge is done, the majority of the guide will still be relevant/applicable.

We’ll consider Week 1 a guide to habits and challenges.

This week, I’ll show you how to hit the Top 100 in the entire Kindle Store.

I’ll Never Get Into the Top 100, Man – Why Should I Care?

Two responses to that:

  1. The principles in this guide will help maximize any promo you do. You do not need to get into the Top 100 to make full-time money, nor should it be a goal for most people. The Top 100 is (mainly) just a nifty title to get people fired up. Consider this a case study that applies the core principles of the Ultimate Guide to Promotion in real-time.
  2. It’s easier to hit the Top 100 than you might think (or the Top 100 of your sub-category), if you’re persistent. Don’t say that’ll never happen to me. I sold 14 copies of my first book. In the first year. I can assure you that the Top 1000 of science fiction was a far off fantasy then.

Ingredients: What Do You Need?

  1. BookBub. This is the most essential ingredient; in many genres, it’s enough to get you to the Top 100 alone. In a smaller genre, however, you need some planning and extra help. This particular BookBub was in horror, which generates estimated average sales of 900. Good enough for Top 250, but not for the Top 100.
    1. Boxed set. It’s easier to get a BookBub with a boxed set. Still highly competitive, but something to consider.
    2. Good cover/blurb. You should have this anyway, but there are a lot of people submitting for a limited number of slots. Make sure these are as good as possible. Subscribe to BookBub’s emails to get a feel for what they’re looking for.
    3. Persistence. I go on and on about persistence, but it’s really the key to everything. I’ve submitted to BookBub at least 125+ times and only been accepted 10 times. A rejection is not some sort of veiled criticism of your work; it is simply because they have limited space. Mark the date on your calendar and then resubmit.
  2. A few smaller promo sites. I only booked three others in this case (two of them being the biggest hitters outside of BookBub), all of which can be found on this curated list.
  3. Planning. The basic, core principle of effective promotion on Amazon is to have a gradually increasing, steady sales curve. To maximize a promo’s effectiveness, you need to schedule the sites/other traffic sources in the right manner.

That’s it, really. There are other ways to hit the Top 100 – e.g. a huge PPC ad spend, your own (large + engaged) mailing list and so forth – but this is probably the most cost effective and easiest way to do so. Even if you’re using different tools (e.g. PPC instead of BookBub), the same principles apply: gradually ramp up your promo to maximize effectiveness.

Why Should I Hit the Top 100?

Basically for self-satisfaction. There aren’t a whole lot of other reasons to do it. You can put “Top 100 Amazon Bestseller” in the description, which I guess is kind of nifty. Although plenty of people do that anyway for hitting #1 in the Fantasy > Paranormal > Witches > Half Witches With Allergy Issues > Shoe Polish sub-category (very competitive, let me tell you). So the value of that is debatable.

I wouldn’t spend extra money to hit the Top 100. Most stays in the Top 100 are brief, and the visibility gained from, say, being #40 or #50 isn’t as massive as you’d think. Certainly not enough to offset a huge initial outlay (which I didn’t do here).

There are other benefits: you hit high enough on the sub-genre bestseller lists and so forth to gain some organic visibility from them. You’re selling enough books to trip Amazon’s algorithms and internal recommendations. Remember, Amazon likes recommending books that are selling a lot of copies. You gotta sell 1000+ to sniff the outside of the Top 100 on a down day, which is more than enough to get Amazon’s attention.

But, ultimately, it’s more for personal bragging rights and validation than anything else.

So, Um, Why Did You Do It?

I figured it would be a good demonstration of the promo principles I talk about. And the visibility boosts/benefits are worth it, provided you can get them without spending a ton of money.

So let’s talk about costs and general structure.

Structure, Costs and Details

The basic details:

  1. The boxed set and 3 book series are all in Kindle Unlimited (KU). The boxed set is simply the complete trilogy.
  2. I ran a Kindle Countdown Deal on the boxed set from 2/1 – 2/5.
  3. I ran a 5-day free promo on Book 1 from 2/1 – 2/5. Link to boxed set in the description.
  4. BookBub deal’s end date was set to 2/5. When you confirm your ad (after you’ve been accepted), they ask you how long the deal will run. They keep the deal on their website until this expiration date – which means more traffic. The boxed set ran on the 3rd, but it stayed on their website for an extra two days because I kept the deal going. To be clear, they don’t keep emailing people about your book after the ad date; it just sits on their website. Still a great way to generate additional sales.

The promos were spaced like this:

  • Day 1: Booksends (63 sales) + Fiverr on Book 1 (55 downloads); rank = #4843
  • Day 2: ENT/Robin Reads (228 sales) + FreeBooksy on Book 1 (1064 downloads); rank = #832
  • Day 3: BookBub (1769 sales); rank = #54

Yes, that means – outside of BookBub – I only booked five sites. This was to keep costs low and administrative time down. ENT and Robin Reads are the two heaviest hitters outside of BookBub; FreeBooksy is probably the best site for free books. I didn’t really need anything else besides a little warm-up on Day 1.

As for the reasoning behind the length and schedule? Basically, this creates an upward trending sales curve over a three day period. 1 or 2 day increases Amazon seems to disregard as spikes. What we’re going for is this:

You’ll never see a linear graph like the one on the right; what you want is a general upward trend over the course of your promotion.

You can calculate an optimal promo schedule with this free Excel Rank Point Calculator (shout out to PhoenixS for letting me use her chart). It’s a rough estimate of a tool, but it’s remarkably helpful: at the end of Day 3, the boxed set had around 1583 rank points. That would be good for a sales rank of around ~45 – 70 according to the chart.

I hit #54.

Wait, About That Sheet…

If you just popped open the Excel sheet and entered the sales #s above, you might have noticed something odd: the sheet spits out a rank point score of 1898! So either my math sucks, or there’s something else at play.

There is: each Amazon region’s sales only count toward that region’s sales rank. That means that only US sales push the rank in the US store (which is what we’re concerned about here). UK sales don’t do anything for your US rank – and are, therefore, useless for our Top 100 push.

For counting sales, we actually have this:

  • Day 1: 62 US sales
  • Day 2: 224 US sales
  • Day 3: 1456 US sales

The remainder were in the UK (you can only run Kindle Countdown Deals in the US and UK at the moment), and had zero impact on my US rank.

Obviously this doesn’t matter for general bookkeeping purposes: the royalties from the UK spend just as well as those from the US – or any other region. A buyer’s region only matters when we’re trying to push our rank as high as possible in a specific store.

Yeah, But What Did It Cost?

The total cost was $491.

  • $400 of that was on the boxed set ($315 for BookBub alone).
  • $91 was promoting Book 1’s free run.

I made back that spend on the day of the BookBub. Everything else is profit.

Anything Else You Wanna Tell Us?

Sure. Two points that had an impact:

  1. Book 1 has been featured on most major promo sites 3+ times (for free) over the past 15 months. It had a BookBub (free) at the end of August 2016 that generated 16,000+ downloads in one day. I launched the boxed set with a separate free run in the middle of August and put the link in Book 1’s description. Between the BookBub run + that original free run, I sold 800+ copies of the boxed set in August.
  2. The boxed set has never been formally advertised on any promo site or via PPC. Completely fresh, other than the spillover traffic outlined above. Fresh books perform really well, even with smaller sites; you can see this in the BookSends #s as well as the ENT/Robin Reads results.

A Note on Links in the Description

I mean a basic Amazon link (e.g. amazon.com/dp/09012xs0x). Not an affiliate link or some redirect through your website. Amazon seems fine with putting links to your next book etc. in the description, author bio and so forth to let people know about a discount/new release, so long as it’s an Amazon link.

Please don’t be a friggin’ ding dong.

Tail?

Here are the first seven days:

  • Day 1: Booksends (63 sales) + Fiverr on Book 1 (55 downloads); rank = #4843
  • Day 2: ENT/Robin Reads (228 sales) + FreeBooksy on Book 1 (1064 downloads); rank = #832
  • Day 3: BookBub (1769 sales); rank = #54
  • Day 4: nothing (259 sales); rank = #68
  • Day 5: nothing (129 sales); rank = #249
  • Day 6: nothing, back to full price (10 sales); rank = #510
  • Day 7: nothing (5 sales + 4688 page reads); rank = #1175

1 week total = 2461 sales + 19,814 page reads.

Downsides?

The money isn’t that great.

Wait, what? I brought in $1500+ in a single week off clicking a few buttons. That’s awesome, right?

Yes, but let’s talk about the economics for a little.

  1. $0.99, with a Countdown Deal, nets you $0.70. Minus delivery fees. On a boxed set, those are substantial; this one is 0.86 MB (1000+ print pages), which means I’m charged $0.13 per download. Suddenly, a 70% royalty rate becomes a 57% royalty rate. $0.13 might not matter on a few copies. But on 2,400+, that’s $312.
  2. We’re selling three full-length novels and getting ~$0.56. That’s 18.7 cents per book. Fast writers (not KBoards fast, but 99th percentile) can do that in 6 months. That’s a fair bit of work.

Just a little food for thought.

Of course, the previous month this set brought in $170. So there’s another argument: $8.99 (its retail price) x 0 still equals zero.

Which is more food for thought.

That’s It?

Yeah, pretty much. To recap the important points:

  • Three day promo run. You can go up to 10, I think, before you’re going to run out of traffic sources to plug the gaps and keep things rising. But I chose three because it’s A) cheaper and B) easier to organize. For an optimal launch, I’d probably go 5 – 7.
  • Schedule the smaller promo options at the beginning, and gradually ramp up to create an upward trending sales curve.
  • The principles above apply to smaller, non-BookBub promo runs and launches as well – consider it a way of maximizing the effectiveness of your ad dollars.
  • Unless you desperately need to make the Top 100, it doesn’t have a lot of practical value. So don’t spend tons of money to do it.

Current Soundtrack

A little Icelandic blues rock.

Costs & Revenue to Date

Revenue

  • Week 1: $2201

Costs

  • Week 0: $1386
  • Week 1: $35

Already in the black, and most of the major pieces (3 releases, 4 promo runs – including one more BookBub) aren’t in play yet.

Week 1 Recap

  1. Finish draft of Lightning Blade: Extended Edition
  2. Reviews for Lightning Blade.

In case it’s not abundantly clear, red means failure.

Obviously, getting the reviews hinged on #1 – actually completing the draft of Lightning Blade. That didn’t happen, so we had two failures. I could make excuses, but the simple fact was I had plenty of time to complete the draft and simply chose not to.

I’m about 2/3 of the way through revisions and additions, which isn’t going to be good enough for this challenge. Or if you want to become a full-time author in general.

Sandbagging creates a compounding downward cycle of misery. As you can see below, my work load has now increased substantially. And that’s just to get back to even. You can make bad decisions; spend money in the wrong places; write a bad book; mess up the scheduling of promos. But voluntarily wasting time that you have is pretty much an unforgivable offense. It is a non-renewable resource and more precious than anything you can buy. Yet we treat it as disposable and worthless.

I’m not ending this with a yeah, this week I won’t waste time. That’s a bold-faced lie. But it’s worth considering when you’re procrastinating, or not focusing with the intensity required to do a great job. Because you can never reacquire lost time.

That being said, onward we go. Nothing can be done, now, and it’s hardly a disaster, anyway. Should make Week 2 more interesting, at least.

Week 2: What Needs to Get Done

  1. Finish final draft of Lightning Blade: Extended Edition.
  2. Reviews for Lightning Blade.
  3. Fix blurb for Lightning Blade.
  4. Schedule Lightning Blade promo.