At first glance these four books, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep, The SheepOver, The Girl on the Train, and Henna House, may not seem to have much in common. What’s interesting about them though is how they became best seller books.
The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep
From August to October of 2015, The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin was a huge story in the media. Ehrlin is a behavioural psychologist and linguist and the book actually puts children to sleep. Originally the book was self-published, and according to The Telegraph, it was “the first self-published work to ever top the Amazon charts.”
On the surface the book seems like an almost overnight hit. According to Publisher’s Weekly, “At the close of last week, on August 16, the book had only sold 24 copies through BookScan outlets, and had sold just over 300 copies since its release in April 2014.”
The reason for the success wasn’t immediately talked about. Then Publisher’s Weekly revealed that the Daily Mail wrote an article about how the book helps kids fall asleep, which led to more articles in other media outlets, including Forbes, The Guardian, NPR, and others. Shortly after getting all that press, Ehrlin signed with a literary agent and then Penguin Random House Children’s bought the rights to the book for 7-figures, according to The Bookseller.
And then in October of 2015, Publisher’s Weekly wrote another article about The Rabbit, revealing the steps leading up to the article in the Daily Mail that ended up making the book so popular. It turns out that the book was 5 years in the making, and was Ehrlin’s third book. He sold the book at seminars and classes and he had his book translated into six languages, which was key. All of his hard work led to word of mouth and sales; Ehrlin also “did some ads there saying the book existed and [people] could try it for free and see if they liked it or not.” His book started selling a lot of copies on Amazon in the U.K. (the English translation). Amazon’s executives then put Ehrlin in touch with writers from the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, and the Guardian.
And interestingly, according to the article, “Ehrlin estimates that, actually, it was the day after the Daily Mail ran its story on Rabbit that the title became Amazon U.K.’s #1 bestseller. A few days later, it was topping Amazon bestseller lists in the U.S. and other countries.”
John Churchman and his wife Jennifer self-published The SheepOver, a book about an orphaned lamb named Sweet Pea who the couple took care of, which also became a best seller. According to Publisher’s Weekly, John Churchman went to his local bookstore and asked if they would stock the book:
But as he showed the book to store co-owner Elizabeth Bluemle, an eavesdropping customer said she’d buy a copy. Bluemle pulled over another store browser to take a look. That customer bought a copy, too. Bluemle was sold: she told Churchman she’d take another eight for her shelves.
Bluemle wrote a blog post about the book for Publisher’s Weekly ShelfTalker, which led to a lot of interest by literary agents. They signed with Brenda Bowen of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, who sold the book to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in a three-book deal with a 6-figure advance.
John already had a Facebook page where he posted photos of the animals on their farm, including sheep, a mini-horse, dogs, geese, ducks, turkeys, cats, and chickens. Their fans already cared about the well-being of Sweet Pea, and John and Jennifer launched a successful campaign on Kickstarter so they could produce a hardcover version of the story.
The book is known for its beautiful images, and so it helps that John is a fine-art photographer who has worked with design, and that Jennifer is a copywriter and an editor who has worked to develop many brands.
According to One Writer’s Way, the campaign met their goal within the first 24 hours. And then of course they took a few copies to their local bookstore, became a hit, and last month the New York Times wrote a review.
The Girl on the Train
Otis Chandler, founder of Goodreads, wrote a blog post calling The Girl on the Train the “it” book of 2015. Apparently Goodreads was a major factor in the book’s success, and the momentum for the book built up quickly on Goodreads.
According to the blog post, influential readers helped the book become popular early on. Karen, one of the top reviewers on Goodreads, wrote a rave for an ARC copy of the book four months before The Girl on the Train was published. This led to many people adding the book to their bookshelves, as a reminder to read the book when it came out. And that led to the book trending on Goodreads.
Riverhead Books, which published The Girl on the Train, gave away 4,000 advanced copies to booksellers, critics, and readers, and did two giveaways on Goodreads. There were 50 winners, though 2,400 people entered the giveaway.
More people posted reviews on Goodreads and buzz was building around the book, so they got more author interviews and paid for more advertising in the month leading up to the publication date. More people kept adding and talking about the book on Goodreads, which led it to be featured on the site. Then Riverhead Books did two more Goodreads giveaways, and this time 5,000 people entered.
Within two weeks, the book was a New York Times best seller, and authors such as Stephen King started talking up The Girl on the Train. According to the blog post,
What’s also very different about The Girl on the Train from other books is the speed at which people have been reading it. This wasn’t a book people bought and then added to the pile on the nightstand. The Girl on the Train had become part of the zeitgeist — it was a conversation topic. And to be part of the conversation, you had to read it first, which people did in droves.
Henna House by Nomi Eve is a coming of age story about a young woman named Adela, who lives in Yemen in 1920. Nomi shares in an article on Publisher’s Weekly that a big secret to her success is her 100 Book Club Challenge. The idea is to meet with 100 book clubs, either in person or via Skype.
She shared the challenge on Facebook and the invitations came quickly. In the end she met her goal within only 6 months.
As you can imagine, it was a pretty crazy six months! What happened was that for every book club I visited, I got invited to another. A book club member’s sister, or cousin, or neighbor, or sister-in-law heard about my book club visits and invited me to their book club. So when I had 20, I really had 40; when I had 40, I really had 80, and so on and so on.
Eve said that she thinks one reason she hit her goal so quickly was because she posted photos of her book club meetings on Facebook, her website, and Twitter. She even hosted two book clubs who traveled to see her in her house.
Key takeaways: What made these books so successful?
There’s no “one size fits all” marketing strategy, and I think all these books had a bit of luck. But as the saying goes, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” And that definitely fits for these four books.
A lot of work was done upfront, and I don’t believe there is ever such a thing as a true overnight success. That said, there are a few common threads the four books in this case study seem to have.
Here are a few tactics that may help you with your own books:
- Make your book available in as many places as possible. Sometimes that means translating your book to reach the biggest potential market.
- Take the time to produce the highest quality book. People notice.
- Get people to talk about your book. Word of mouth is important and has an amplifying effect. One way to encourage word of mouth is via giveaways.
- Reach out and make connections. Influencers who like your book are incredibly helpful, especially at the beginning of your marketing efforts.
- Connect with people in a meaningful way. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences.
- Share your story. Media outlets can really help a book achieve success, but in many cases you have to know someone who can introduce you or be willing to write about you.
- Plan multiple marketing strategies. The more options you have, the more opportunities you give yourself.
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared May 2016.
As an indie authorpreneur, it’s important to stay on top of the latest trends, not only in self-publishing, but in the publishing industry as a whole.
Here are some sites and blogs that I read regularly. Some of them cover the publishing industry, including news, book deals, and job moves. Others give updates on the indie world, such as Amazon algorithm changes or hot book genre trends. And some speculate on the future of publishing, and how digital affects the way books are made and consumer. I’ve found them all useful and often fascinating:
- The Book Designer
- The Bookseller
- Chris McMullen
- The Creative Penn
- Digital Book World
- The Digital Reader
- The Guardian (Self-publishing section)
- Jane Friedman
- Joe Wikert’s Digital Content Strategies
- LibraryJournal Info Docket
- The Passive Voice
- Publisher’s Lunch
- Publisher’s Weekly
- Publishing Perspectives
- Publishing Trendsetter
- The Scholarly Kitchen
I’ve also set up Google alerts for the keywords “book publishing”, “digital publishing”, “ebooks” and “self publishing.” Come to think of it, I should probably add another one for “indie authors.” I get these alerts once a week (I used to get them daily, but found that to be too overwhelming).
As for my list, I get most articles delivered to my inbox, which I scan in the mornings. If something looks particularly interesting, I bookmark it to read more thoroughly later.
This is definitely not a complete list–there are so many helpful sites out there. Where do you go to get your news?
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared February 2016.
Because of this, there are tons of resources online that give indie authors advice on how to find reviewers and contact them. Funds for Writers and eNovel Authors at Work gives some tips, such as keeping in mind that not everyone who initially agrees to review your book will do so (possibly due to time constraints or other factors in their life). It’s also important to keep in mind that it takes time to get your book reviewed.
As Jackie Weger at eNovel Authors at Work puts it:
Book reviews are NOT instant. One must wait for the reader to read the dang book. Patience is required. All reviewers have a TBR stack ahead of you. There is a protocol for approaching reviewers. In your email: Greet the reviewer by name. State your name and the name of your book and offer a one line tag. DO NOT send your book cold turkey. ASK FIRST. Or follow the instruction on the blog to submit your book for review.
Another approach is to go the book club circuit route, as talked about on Book Works. This also takes time, since you will need to reach out to small, niche groups. The upside is you’ll probably find a small group of people who not only love reading, but probably like your book (if you find a group who likes your genre).
And then there are paid reviews. This means paying a fee for a professional book reviewer or organization to give an honest review. These services tend to give credibility to a book, but can be expensive (running in the hundreds of dollars). MediaShift has a great Q&A post with Blue Ink Review.
However, sometimes reviews are not always accurate. Christina Larmer on Huffington Post writes how sometimes reviews are incorrect, such as a review of one of her books that talks about missing pages, even though there are no missing pages. Yet, she couldn’t get the review removed, which may be misleading to potential readers. She ends her piece with a request for reviewers to “Keep it real”:
Just be sure to make it honest and believable, and it will not only pass muster with the Powers That Be, you will be doing your fellow readers a good service. Because each genuine review you write gives other potential readers a chance to understand a little about the book and whether it’s worth investing in. Then they can go in, eyes wide open, before they press ‘download’.
What are your experiences with getting book reviews? Please share in the comments!
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared July 2016.
With that in mind, here’s a compilation of tips and tools that can help you with your book promotion efforts. Continue reading
One strategy I’ve written about before is going permafree, meaning you set one book in a series to permanently free, as a way to entice readers to buy the rest of the books in the series.
To add fodder to that idea, M. Louisa Locke writes about how using the permafree strategy freed up more of her time for actually writing (instead of working to constantly promote all her books). And Bacon and Books shares their experience with giving away books for free, at least temporarily.
If you’re looking to promote your book (whether you’re having a sale, offering it for free, or making it permafree), here a few websites you can try:
- BookBub (try out the author profiles)
- Book Talk
- Buck Books
- Ereader News Today
- Indie Book Lounge
- Self-Publishing Review’s 35+ Alternatives to BookBub
Additionally, check out my post, “7 Strategies and 110 Tools to Help Indie Authors Find Readers and Reviewers.”
Editor’s note: This post originally appeared April 2016.
By Allison Phillips
The environment is changing for authors. What once was thought to be a solitary pursuit is evolving into an interactive process with the introduction of new technology. As we move from the printed page to the screen, it invites readers and writers to engage and share the experience through online writing communities. Writers now have access to networks that offer critique, feedback, and support to one another. This collaborative approach helps to beat writer’s block, get inspired, and obtain a fresh perspective.
Take the bestselling novel 50 Shades of Grey, fan fiction based on Twilight, and written in progress on a public fan-fiction website; it gathered fans and feedback over time before being formally published.
While online writing communities benefit writers by giving them the freedom to share their work, it benefits readers by allowing them to uncover a whole new world of storytellers. No longer are readers restricted to the bookstore in search of something captivating but can now visit a site to explore new writing styles, working plots and engage with a potential bestseller.
Here are some writing communities that readers can explore: Continue reading
Jane Friedman has a great post on how to write a book in three drafts. There’s the messy draft, which is a first draft and often unorganized. Then there’s the method draft, which outlines the messy draft and starts the rewriting process. And last is the polished draft, where you start asking people for constructive feedback from beta readers.
After getting feedback, you can go back and take a look at your paragraphs. Joseph Blake Parker offers six tips on how to write strong paragraphs. Basically, you want to know what kind of paragraph you’re using (descriptive, action, dialogue, etc.), determine paragraph lengths depending on whether you want to slow a scene down or have an action-packed scene, and use important words only one time per paragraph.
Next you can use tools, such as Grammarly or the Hemingway app, to help clean up your manuscript. There’s also After the Deadline, an open-source plugin/extension/add-on/etc. that uses AI and natural language processing to find errors and offer suggestions.
After all that, you can choose to either self publish your book or to try and go the traditional route. If you want to go the traditional route, Writer’s Digest has a guide to literary agents, where you can learn more about agents, and get tips on how to query and submit.
Chickadee Prince, a small press based in Brooklyn, is planning on opening up a pop-up bookstore, in addition to publishing new titles. Read on for a great Q&A with founder Steven S. Drachman, who created Chickadee Prince from a bookseller’s perspective. Continue reading
Authors can also learn from airlines, according to The Bookseller. Airline prices rise and fall depending on the day:
But what if the same seat-pricing model were to be applied to books? A model where the titles would have lower prices on Tuesdays and be more expensive on Fridays. Where the R.R.P. on the back cover becomes as dynamic as a company’s share price. Where we compete to buy books like we do in an EBay auction.
One way to apply this is to heavily discount pre-orders, and slowly raise the price the closer to publication date it gets. Then, the price could continue to fluctuate based on “interest in the author, the genre, the topic, and personalized to the reader’s own interests.”
Indie authors also have a lot in common with independent app developers. One person on Reddit shared how they made over $700k from a premium game and hit #1 in the App Store (and the New Yorker even wrote about it). According to the post, it’s very hard to do as an indie, but what’s important is to release regular updates, cross promote to other games, and ask for reviews.
Another thing authors can learn from is content marketing, which is very similar to writing books. Drift wrote about what they learned growing their website from 200 to 27,000 visitors, and they found that blogging is an investment (so content published a while back can continue to drive traffic, much like the first book in a series can continue to generate interest), quality content is important, as is the amount of effort it takes to promote that content (community sites are great that way, as well as working with influencers), and data can only tell you so much, so it’s better to focus on big picture things in the beginning and not small tweaks.
DBW also advocates content communities, and recommends that authors share research, back stories, databases, and more to allow readers to see what’s behind the scenes and feel part of a community.
Related to content marketing is omnichannel selling. BookMachine shared ten things they learned selling at a conference, including the fact that most people make purchases online and many through their smartphone, knowing their path to purchase is important (so when possible, selling direct may be a good idea), when it comes to making a sale, email is much more effective than social media, social media is helpful for customer service, and things are always changing.
Gumroad’s post, “Nathan Barry’s Lessons Learned Selling $355,759 on Gumroad,” sums up everything nicely. Basically, Nathan recommends being able to contact customers (like in newsletters), pricing based on value, using email to build relationships and launch products, and selling in packages at different values.
What other industries do you follow? Share in the comments!