5 Steps to an Amazon Bestseller

Have you ever dreamed of writing a book? And not just any book — a bestseller?

If you’ve got a blog, a course, a speech, or even just a strong opinion about a topic, you’ve got the material for a bestselling ebook. Technology has made it incredibly easy to publish an ebook on Amazon for the Kindle, and if you play your cards right, nearly as easy to become an Amazon bestseller.

First, we need to get one thing straight: the Amazon bestseller list is an algorithm. It’s a computer taking a data set and turning that into a ranking.  Which means, by default, it’s not a measure of you or your book’s intrinsic quality or worth. Rather, it’s a measure of how well you play the game.

Let me give you an example.  Lacy Boggs, my copywriter on my team, wrote an ebook last year called Make a Killing with Content and published it on Amazon as a Kindle book. In her first week, Lacy’s book broke the top ten list in three different business categories, making her a bestseller.

Do you want to know how many copies she sold?  Forty.  

Yes, you read that correctly. She became a bestseller in three different categories by only selling 40 copies in her first week and with only 10 five-star reviews.

Because it’s not necessarily about selling a zillion copies or getting hundreds of reviews — it’s more about how you play the game.

In fact, if this is of interest to you, I’ve created some Ebook Bestseller Launch Swipe Copy that you can use to play Amazon’s game and create your own bestselling ebook — click here to download it!

How to play Amazon’s game

No one knows exactly what Amazon’s algorithm looks for when choosing bestsellers — they guard that information the way Google guards its SEO algorithm. But we can make some educated guesses based on experience.

  • Choose your categories carefully. Amazon lets you pick which categories you want your book to be “shelved” in. But just like it would be impossible for most of us to get on the first page of Google for a generic term like “business” or “weight loss,” the same is true for Amazon. Get specific with your categories instead of choosing a broad category, and you’re more likely to reach bestseller status in that category.
  • Put keywords in your title. When choosing the title and subtitle for your book, make sure you’re using some keywords that people would search for. This will help strangers find your book when searching for information.
  • Get pre-orders. Amazon will let you offer your book for pre-order up to 90 days before the release date, and pre-orders definitely affect bestseller rankings.
  • Aim for a big spike of sales on the first day your book is available.  It seems to help to create a wave of interest for your book early on to push you onto the bestseller list. It may help to set a very low price point — say, $0.99 — at least for the initial launch period so that more people are inclined to buy. Most people find that “less is more” when it comes to pricing ebooks: the less it costs, the more you will sell.
  • Get as many positive reviews as you can, as quickly as possible. Reviews definitely seem to help push people onto the bestseller list — and they’re proven to help sell your book in the long run.  

This is a good place to answer the question: free or paid?  Amazon offers a service called Amazon Select that will allow you to make your book free for a certain period of time (among other perks). The drawback is that you have to confirm that you won’t sell your book anywhere else — including on your own website.

While you can get a lot of downloads offering your book free for a limited time, be aware that Amazon has different bestseller lists for free and paid books — and just because you make it to the bestseller list for free books doesn’t guarantee the momentum will continue when you switch back to paid.

Whether you decide to go the free or paid route is up to you! But either way, you need to do some prep work to ensure that groundswell of attention during your launch week that will help ensure that bestseller status:

Step 1: Gather your “street team”

In more traditional marketing, a street team would literally be a team of people out handing out flyers, passing out stickers and buttons, or manning a booth somewhere in the real world. In internet marketing, it’s just easy shorthand for a group of your most devoted friends and fans who are willing to help you out with a few simple tasks.

A few weeks before your launch date, start assembling your “street team.”  I like to create an application process to make it feel more exclusive.  The benefit they get for joining your street team is first and foremost a free, advanced copy of your book. If you want to throw in other benefits, that’s good as well. You might offer:

  • Any worksheets or special downloads that go with your book
  • Intimate Q&A opportunities with you, the author
  • The opportunity to interview you for their website or podcast
  • Other cool swag — like a notepad, coffee mug, pen, bracelet, etc.
  • The opportunity to gift or give away a free copy of your book to their friends or followers
  • Access to a product or course on a similar theme
  • Etc.

Gather their basic information on your application, and then be sure to ask something like, “What additional brilliant ideas do you have for promoting my book?” You never know what they might suggest!

One idea is to ask them to pre-order the book, and then personally issue them a refund: The pre-orders count toward your sales for bestseller status. That way you get the order with Amazon, and they get the book for free. (You must issue the credit or refund through PayPal or your own business, though, not through Amazon.) This also makes them “verified buyers” when they leave a review, which Amazon may weigh more heavily.

Don’t forget that I’ve put together some Ebook Bestseller Launch Swipe Copy that you can use to craft these invitations and emails!  Click here to grab it.

Step 2: Create a group and set expectations

Once you’ve assembled your team, you need a place to communicate with them during your launch. A Facebook group is perfect for this, but you could also gather people on Slack, by email, or in another forum of your choice.

From there, you want to be sure to set clear expectations.  The ONE thing you most want people to do is to leave positive reviews on Amazon on your launch day (or close to it). Therefore, it’s a good idea to explicitly say that you are giving them a free, advance copy of your book in exchange for a review on Amazon. Note that it’s unnecessary to ask for a GOOD review, just a review. (Hopefully they will all love it! But it’s against the rules to pay for good reviews, so keep it neutral in your ask.)

Beyond that, you might suggest that they:

  • share your book on launch day
  • email 3 people for whom the book would be perfect
  • email their favorite podcast hosts and suggest you as a guest
  • give away a copy to their community (see above)
  • interview you for their own website or podcast
  • etc.

During launch week, it’s a good idea to space these requests out. If you can make one small ask each day, people are more likely to follow through.

Some people gamify their street team by offering rewards to people who complete the most tasks or sell the most books. That is completely optional but may motivate people to continue to play the game more!

Step 3: Reach out to friends and influencers

Of course, there will be people in your personal and professional network who might not want to be part of your “street team” but who would happily share your book or tweet about it to their friends and followers.

Take the time to make a list of 50–100 people you know personally and send each one an email asking if they’d be willing to help promote your book.

For those that say yes, make it as easy as possible for them by sending them pre-written, cut-and-paste status updates and graphics for all the major social media channels, along with links and when they should send it.  And be sure to send a reminder email on your launch day.

You can gift them a free copy of your book as thanks, but don’t expect that they will necessarily take the time to leave a review. (Although, it doesn’t hurt to ask!)

An interesting tool you can use to gather this kind of support is called Thunderclap. It works on the same premise as crowdfunding sites, but without the money. You set a goal for a certain number of people to help you promote your event, and if enough people agree, the app will automatically send out a pre-written tweet, Facebook message, etc., all at the same time creating, if you will, a thunderclap of social media support.

Step 4: Create your groundswell

It’s launch day!  Today is the day to remind your street team to leave reviews, to remind your friends and family to share your book, and to promote it yourself.

Remember: Amazon is looking at overall engagement and downloads of your book in a short period of time, so the more you can do to promote it all at once, the better your chances of hitting the bestseller list.

Get creative with the sorts of promotions you can do to support your book launch.  Of course you should share it on social media, but what else? You could:

  • Email your list
  • Blog about it
  • Pre-schedule guest posts or interviews on other websites and podcasts to go live the same week
  • Do a Facebook live video introducing the book
  • Do an Instagram story about launch day
  • Offer a Q&A webinar about the book content or even the process of writing and publishing a book
  • Do a challenge in conjunction with the book
  • Give away other prizes to people who buy the book on launch day (have them submit a receipt to qualify for the drawing)

Get creative in engaging as much of your audience and network as possible with your launch.

Step 5: Screengrab your greatness

You should note that Amazon won’t notify you when you’ve made the bestseller list, so you’ll want to keep checking during that first week and take a screenshot when you’ve made it!  

Ask your network to keep their eyes out for it as well, because different people may see different things when it comes to other places on the site. For example, if your book becomes a suggested title in the “other users also bought” sections and in Amazon emails.

After all this work, what does being an Amazon bestseller really get you?

Well, for one thing, it’s wonderful to be able to put in your bios and introduce yourself as a “bestselling author”!  It lends a real note of credibility to you and your business. In addition, Amazon is the world’s second largest search engine, meaning that for as long as your book is available — and especially if it’s in the top 10 for a category — new people will continue to find you and be introduced to your business.

As for my friend, Lacy, she’s done very little to promote her book in the year or so since her launch, yet she consistently sells about 200–250 copies a month, and is currently still on the bestseller list in the “web marketing” category — ahead of books by Gary Vaynerchuk and Ryan Levesque.

Which seems like a pretty fun win to me!
Remember, if you are considering launching an ebook on Amazon, your launch team and network are key, so click here to download our free Ebook Bestseller Launch Swipe Copy to make it as easy as possible to launch your next bestselling ebook!

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