Aiming for the NYT Best Seller List Marketing

NYTlistUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last week – with no wifi! – you are probably aware we released The Indie Author Power Pack on Monday, with the aim of hitting the New York Times Best Seller list.

We won’t know the result until next week, but I’ve had a few tweets and emails asking how we were doing, so I thought I’d give you an update.

Before that, if you somehow missed the blanket promo we have been conducting, The Indie Author Power Pack is a stonking deal – only 99c – and contains three top rated writer’s guides:

  • Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt & Johnny B. Truant
  • Let’s Get Digital (2nd ed.) by me
  • How To Market A book (2nd ed.) by Joanna Penn
  • PLUS exclusive content.

You can read more in this blog post, and you can pick up the box for just 99c (saving you $16!) from:

Amazon | Amazon UK | Apple | B&N | Kobo

Everyone who pre-ordered the box should have received it on Monday, and if there was some issue purchasing the box set, or if your pre-order hasn’t dropped onto your device, please let me know in the comments or by email and I’ll help.

The Numbers

The box set has been selling extremely strongly since it went up for pre-order and Joanna Penn got the ball rolling on her blog. I stepped up to the plate the following Tuesday, then Sean, Johnny & Dave put their shoulder to the wheel a couple of days later, and then we all recorded a podcast last Friday.

I don’t have access to the exact figures, but I think we had around 3,000 pre-orders before it actually went live this Monday. So far so good.

This week, we went wider with our marketing. We had a number of ads on reader sites, lots of guest posts in key venues – the Kobo Writing Life blog, Joe Konrath’s blog, a week-long series of posts from all of us on the Nook Press Blog (see sidebar for individual posts) – and a huge number of authors sharing on social media, blogging about the box, and even hitting their own mailing lists.

It was a huge collective effort and my sincere thanks go to everybody involved, especially those that hit their mailing list – that was amazing.

EDIT: It was extremely remiss of me not to give a shout out to Phoenix Sullivan of Steel Magnolia Press. She is managing the box and put together the awesome marketing plan. She also knows more about Amazon’s algorithms than anyone outside Amazon (and most inside too, I suspect), and she did an incredible job.

The last figures I saw (yesterday morning) showed a total of 5,499 sales. The box set has been holding pretty steady in the Amazon rankings since it launched, mostly bouncing between #130 and #200, with a couple of surges almost breaking the Top 100 in the Kindle Store – including one that fell agonizingly short at #101.

The performance has been even better when you compare it to our competition for those list spots, as non-fiction doesn’t sell half as strongly as fiction in the Kindle Store.

We have been camped out in the Top 20 of the Kindle Store Non-Fiction charts all week, selling almost as strongly as Lena Dunham’s media-attention-grabbing memoir, which hit #6 on the NYT Non-Fiction Best Seller for the week prior to the one we are targeting (that list will be published on Sunday, but is circulated in advance). We’ve also been well ahead of some heavily publicized books from big names, like Walter Isaacson’s Innovators (which hit #12 on the list for the week just gone).

Of course, it’s this week’s sales that matter and we’ll be facing competition from all sorts of new books too from authors like Jennifer Lopez (which feels weird to write on many levels). And traditionally published books will be relatively stronger outside of Amazon.

That said, the raw total, current sales trajectory (EDIT: I just heard we are over 6,000 sales now but haven’t seen a breakdown yet), and relative sales performance seems to point towards garnering enough sales to hit the New York Times Non-Fiction E-book Best Seller list – which is the particular list we are targeting.

But when you drill down on those numbers, and factor in the particular quirks of the NYT list, the challenge ahead of us becomes apparent.

Out of those 5,499 sales, not all are countable in terms of the NYT. For example, the box set has been doing particularly well in Canada but those sales obviously don’t count towards NYT placement. There are 981 such sales from non-US Kindle Stores, which reduces the countable total down to 4,518.

That total, at this point in the week, is still pretty strong versus what I think will be needed. But that’s not the biggest challenge we face.

One of the quirks of the NYT list is that they completely disregard books which only have sales from a single vendor. You can see the following in the small print under the Best Seller lists:

From the NYT: "E-books available exclusively from a single vendor will be tracked at a future date."

While The Indie Author Power Pack is available at all major retailers, it’s generally assumed that sales have to reach a certain level at each retailer before those sales are counted. Some have speculated that number is 500 sales, as that is the respective reporting level for Barnes & Noble and the USA Today bestseller list, but facts are thin on the ground. Nevertheless, that’s what we have been shooting for.

If you don’t hit the necessary threshold at a second retailer, it seems that the NYT considers you exclusive to one retailer and then you are excluded from the list no matter how many copies you have sold. I know one particular author who sold tens and tens of thousands of copies of one title in a single weekend – several multiples of what was needed at that time of year – and didn’t hit the list at all because he was exclusive to Amazon.

These are the breaks.

EDIT: I should underline that this is a theory with regard to the NYT. Anything to do with how they calculate their lists is guesswork (and please check out some contradicting info/alternative theories in the comments). Although it’s clear that Amazon-exclusive titles don’t make the list.

We always knew that hitting 500 sales at a second retailer was going to be the biggest challenge we faced, even more than the raw total needed, which is why we put a lot of focus on sales outside Amazon.

But despite a lot of effort on our part, and yours, we haven’t made as much of a dent elsewhere. Here’s the breakdown by retailer, as of yesterday morning (except where indicated):

Amazon: 5,160

Barnes & Noble: 134

Apple: 146 (as of Wednesday, reporting is delayed)

Kobo: 59

Note: the above includes all regions, so a good chunk of Apple/Kobo sales will be international and thus not countable for the NYT.

Considering our focus on Barnes & Noble in particular, the numbers outside of Amazon are a little disappointing. We’ve had some reports of people with difficulties purchasing the box from Barnes & Noble, but I think it’s more down to our respective reach on that platform being relatively small, and just not getting a break… so far at least.

But it’s not over yet.

How You Can Help

We need a bit of luck to get Barnes & Noble numbers up to the required level of 500, and we need to keep the momentum going elsewhere too. And there are ways you can help get the word out.

1. Retweet these tweets. All you have to do is click a button!

2. Share. If you want to post on Facebook, write about the deal on your blog, or whatever, I have a handy zip file full of covers, mugshots, banners, and text that you can use, which you can download from Dropbox here.

Remember to tell your friends that this is $17 worth of top-rated self-publishing guides, and the price of the box won’t stay at 99c forever. It could rise as early next week – depending on what happens this week.

If you haven’t bought The Indie Author Power Pack yet yourself, don’t delay! You really should grab it while it’s still 99c. A sale from Barnes & Noble will help us most right now, but all sales are really appreciated. Here are those links again to save you scrolling back up:

Amazon | Amazon UK | Apple | B&N | Kobo

March To A Bestseller

We have one final promo opportunity lined up, which starts today.

March To A Bestseller 2 is a giant Facebook event with tons of great books on writing, publishing, marketing, and platform building discounted to 99c. There are some really great competitions and prizes, as well as Q&A sessions with some really big authors.

You can check it out on Facebook here, and it’s free and open to anyone (with a Facebook account). It’s running all day, and proceedings kick off at 9am Eastern (2pm GMT) – i.e. in less than an hour. I’m among the first authors doing Q&A sessions, along with Steve Scott, Heather Hart and Michelle Campbell-Scott, so pop along and say hello! Each session runs for two hours, then a new bunch of authors take over.

That’s it for today. Enjoy your weekend, and I’ll let you know if we hit the NYT list as soon as I find out myself – which should be the middle of next week.

Cross those fingers!

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time he spends outside. He writes fiction under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.