Marketing Your Way To A #1 Amazon Bestseller With Rachel Abbott

There are books that seem to come out of nowhere and storm the Amazon charts, ranking highly and selling well. The truth is that they get to the top through word of mouth which can be boosted by strategic marketing. Rachel Abbott wrote a brilliant guest post about making #1 on Amazon a while back and so I asked her on the podcast to talk more about it. This interview will give you some great marketing tips

Rachel Abbott is the author of suspense thriller ‘Only the Innocent’ which reached #1 on and continues to remain in the Top 100 books on Kindle in multiple categories 5 months after launch. Rachel is British but lives in Italy and she shares her knowledge about book marketing generously on her blog.

  • How Rachel got started with writing. She used to be a business writer for proposals in a media company, also writing scripts for products. She sold the business and eventually moved to Italy, renovating and renting property. Rachel is a business woman so always has to have a business to run! She had the idea for a novel for a long time and finally, one winter, got down to writing.
  • Rachel did try to get an agent and publisher, but had no luck, putting it aside for a couple of years. Then she heard about Amazon Kindle publishing but at the time it was closed to non-US citizens. Once it opened up, she decided to have a go and self-published ‘Only The Innocent’ just as an idea.
  • On ‘Only The Innocent’. The book opens with a man murdered by a woman, and Rachel wanted to come up with a scenario where killing him would be the only option out of a terrible situation. The mystery is which woman does the killing and why – the motivations behind. On hinting about violence and leaving it up to the imagination vs/ graphic violence. Rachel and I both prefer the former.
  • The Marketing plan. Initially Rachel found her book didn’t move at all. There was no impact on sales. So she started to do a lot of research, and finally decided to put it into action. In the end, she wrote a marketing plan, allocating time for different activities to be most strategic. You want your books to be bought by people who have bought a lot of books, because then you get ‘People who also bought’ titles coming up and your book appears on other places based on the Amazon algorithms. Rachel also used Twitter strategically connecting with book readers and people in the niche. Click here for Rachel’s full blog post on her marketing plan.
  • Forums worked well – Goodreads forum and also KindleBoards – interacting with readers and talking about other things. But the links to your books are in the footer of your profile. This is a time consuming process, as you need to establish relationships in here. It probably was an hour a day in the forums. You do have to be in the ‘Meet our authors’ area on the forums. Rachel gives an example of when the forums pushed her book sales up.
  • On targeting reviewers.  Rachel spent a lot of time doing Google searches and created a comprehensive list (available on this post). You must follow the submission guidelines – don’t scattergun requests. Make it easy for people to review your book. Rachel did all this before her sales went up at all.
  • This was a slow process. At Xmas, she sold 6 copies which she thought was fantastic. In January, 10 a day and then end of Jan, it went berserk and got to #1 on 18 Feb.
  • On what could be improved next time. Building up a list prior to launch would be the biggest thing. Sending advance copies to reviewers in the hope of getting earlier reviews. It takes time for reviews to kick in. But the strategy can’t just be about reviews. The main thing would be setting it all up prior to launch.
  • On traditional vs indie. Rachel can understand why it was difficult for agents to take ‘Only the Innocent’ as it is hard to categorize. It’s not in an obvious genre. Traditional publishers do have a lot to offer. Rachel now has an agent who is helping her to improve her writing. This kind of editing helps a lot and continues to be a stand out for traditional publishing. Even with indie, Rachel will get an editor next time, and she is still interested in having her book in a bookstore. But saying that, going indie is a great, viable option – as long as you’re prepared to do the marketing. There’s no guarantee of replicating success either.
  • There are positive choices either way – it’s about the choice per book. It puts a more positive, entrepreneurial spin on the publishing experience which is great! It’s not just about the advance, it’s about how they will use the book and how it will be targeted.
  • On ebook pricing. Rachel doesn’t like the 99c price but eventually used it as the book crept up the charts. She then changed it to 1.99 and sales weren’t impacted. But the low price is important when people haven’t heard of you. Publishers charge a higher price, similar to print cost, but it is difficult as ebook readers do prefer lower prices for new authors. Established authors can get away with having higher prices. We talk about our experience as readers and how we are drawn to lower prices and our justification for it.
  • Go for it. Don’t be shy. It’s well worth the effort and even if you only sell a few copies, it’s better than you would have done otherwise. You have to be prepared to put some work in. Work out what works for you and what doesn’t For example, fliers on cars at the location of the setting of the book which worked for one person, but ‘live’ marketing isn’t easy for Rachel as she is in Italy. Think about what you can do in terms of marketing. Rachel gets a lot of emails about books that don’t sell, but mainly it’s because authors aren’t marketing. The bottom line is – you have to put the effort in, and making a plan will really help.

I highly recommend you check out Rachel’s blog which has fantastic articles for writers and self-publishers.She’s also on twitter @rachel__abbott

You can also check out Only The Innocent on Amazon

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  1. says

    Some very good advice, and some I have not thought of before. Nice work Rachel and thanks for bringing it to my attention, Joanna. Do you not think there is a real danger of becoming a nuisance on Twitter with so much promotion going on?

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback Grant. I know what you mean about Twitter – there is loads of promotion going on, but I suppose the problem is that people use Twitter in so many different ways. I follow about 3000 people, so unless they tweet a lot, I am unlikely to spot those crucial promotional tweets. On the other hand, I know some people only follow a small number, and if they are getting promo tweets every two minutes, they will soon stop. That’s why I think it depends where you are in your cycle. I tweeted like mad to start with, and it made a difference. But now I need to step back and try to engage people more. I’m brand building now, rather than trying to get every new follower to buy my book. A different phase, and I’ve changed my strategy completely.

      • says

        I keep to the 80:20 rule – 80% of the time I am referring other people’s links and posts, and then 20% I can direct people to my own, or promote things. As long as you are adding value and connecting, it’s not spam.

  2. says

    It’s really great to hear your story Rachel, thanks for sharing and for then tips. Love the multimedia aspect of the post Joanna! Thanks. Tina

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback Tina, and glad you thought it was useful. I had no idea that I had such a broad Lancashire accent though! That came as quite a shock, as it’s years since I heard myself on the radio or similar. However, far too late to change now!

  3. says

    Great interview! Thank you Joanna and Rachel. Joanna raised a great point toward the end of the interview about the kinds of results Rachel might have seen if she’d had 2-3 other books out at the time she found success with ONLY THE INNOCENT. Assuming one is going mostly the indie route, waiting until you have 3+ books online before doing any real kind of marketing blitz is something Robin Sullivan (Ridan Press) has talked about quite a bit. With only a single book out, readers who discover and love your work won’t be able to satisfy their new-found addiction. I realize that’s easy to say. It’s painful for authors to watch their babies languishing in an Amazonian purgatory while we plug away on something new. But I think in the end, combining Robin’s advice with Rachel’s marketing strategy could really pay off.

    • says

      That’s a really good point, Griffin. I really wish that I had another book ready – but as I think I mentioned (or at least, I meant to) I had never really thought that I would sell more than a few hundred books. My target for success was a thousand. So now I’m writing like mad to catch up! But I do think it’s quite a good strategy to have more books ready. Having said that, I have seen a few people get high in the charts and then release their next book straight away – and the next one hasn’t done quite so well. I think we can try everything that seems like a good idea, and trust the rest to luck.
      I was reading this morning that a lot of publishers are encouraging their top authors to write short stories or novellas to keep them in the reading public’s eye whilst waiting for their next major novel. Apparently this is another good strategy. However, I downloaded one of these from one of my favourite authors, and I was left feeling a bit disappointed. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the writing – just that a novella doesn’t grab me the way that a novel does.
      All good stuff to think about, though!

  4. Edward Smith says

    Wow, I give her a lot of credit, she did a lot of work and kept adjusting, that is great. I coach authors how to get on TV and I would urge her to keep building a “platform” so she become a good potential guest to get on TV. Then she will really sell some books. OK, thanks, Edward Smith.

    • says

      It’s interesting you mention TV Edward – I made it onto national TV in Australia and saw no sales spike at all. I think TV builds name recognition but doesn’t necessarily translate into direct sales.

  5. Edward Smith says

    Bummer about not getting any sales, I wish I could say that was an isolated experience but I know it is not. You are correct about it building name recognition and that is the stepping stone to selling books. You build credibility as an expert in your field and positive views of your books. An author can use this to get other interviews and build more awareness for the author and book. Just like TV advertising, they have to keep running the ads awhile before you buy. Same with selling books, more appearances equals more book sales. OK, thanks for that, Edward

    • says

      Interesting feedback about TV. I think you’re right about name recognition, though. When I was at the London Book Fair, KDP Amazon did a lot of promotion about the fact that I was going to be there, and I saw a slight increase in US sales, but nothing that I could point to in the UK. But I do think that it has increased my profile – which can only be good (I hope).

      And in terms of adjusting, I’m STILL adjusting almost daily. I learn new stuff all the time, and keep thinking that if I had a full time person to follow up all the social media opportunities that are out there, I still wouldn’t cover them all. So it’s a matter of choosing the things that you enjoy, and hoping that they work!

      • Edward Smith says

        Yes, and another thing that makes my clients crazy about getting on TV is that not all shows are created equal in terms of selling books, even when they have similar audience sizes. For whatever reason some shows really sell books and others are duds. Here in the US for instance getting on Oprah is regarded as the best of the best, yet many authors find that book sales did not increase after an appearance on Oprah. That audience is just not big book buyers. On the other hand in the US, if you get on Good Morning America, you are going to sell a serious number of books. That audience buys books like crazy for some reason. OK, thanks, Edward.

  6. says

    That’s one excellent marketing plan. Social media is a great tool for marketing, the one with twitter sounds interesting. Thank you for sharing the secrets of your success with us, Rachel.

  7. says

    Timely post as I am nearing the end of editing my second book; the first one is doing OK but I could have marketed it better if I’d known more. Still there’s always the relaunch :).
    I’ve just visited your blog Rachel and there’s some great posts on it so I’ll be reading them as I prepare my marketing onslaught for the second book. Thanks and thanks to Jo for continuing to get some great guests but don’t forget to do your own writing :).

  8. says

    Good luck with your second book. And you might well find that if you get the marketing right, people will want to find more of your work, and will then find your first book. I am constantly hearing that people with more books find that they make sales of each other, and I hope the same is true for you.

  9. says

    I would like to add a word of thanks to Rachel–and Joanna, too, for your willingness to share with us all what you’ve learned about ebook marketing. This willingness to help others is such an admirable dimension of the self-pubbed community. This afternoon I’m retooling my marketing plan, especially my approach to reviewers, based upon Rachel’s discussion with Joanna and what I read subsequently on Rachel’s blog. I’m in your debt, ladies! Thanks!

  10. says

    Joanna–in re the 80/20 rule, I think that’s a good ratio. But I also tend to think that if I am offering in a tweet some value for free–such as a blog post or a free audio short story on my site–that should count as part of the 80, not the 20. In other words, if I’m content marketing with free material I have created (as you do so well) I don’t think of that as direct promotion of my books, and thus that I’m not being a nuisance in tweeting it. What say you?

    • says

      I include anything I write in the 20% – even though most of what I write is useful, it still relates to me and any shouting about me is definitely in the 20% :)
      My account still grows every day on twitter so why break it now!

      • says

        Well – as I tried to say – everything you tweet about is useful Joanna. You are unique in that respect. You tweet stuff that is interesting to your followers. The 80-20 works for you because you make the 80 interesting too. You don’t fill the 80 with stuff that nobody wants to know just to get the balance right. Keep on with your strategy – it works for you better than anybody!

  11. says

    Daniel – I know you directed this at Joanna, but I have written quite a bit about this recently – principally because I actually got a bit fed up of reading blog posts that made me feel guilty about my Twitter strategy. I have come to the conclusion that you should just do your own thing. If people are leaving in droves, then you know you are doing something wrong.

    Last week, I saw loads of posts from people saying (more or less) “this is how you should use Twitter” and I got a bit mad and wrote a post myself (basically asking who has made these people the guardians of the Twitterverse)! Joanna has created an excellent rule for herself – but then her 80% is interesting too. That is definitely not true of everybody. Some people attempt to follow this rule so that they don’t feel bad about the 20% that is about them, and fill the 80% with stuff that people aren’t interested in – just to follow the rules.

    I have recently been told that Twitter should be ‘conversational’ so I have started to follow lots of people that I thought would be interesting. But do you know – I really am not interested in whether somebody has ordered new blinds for their kitchen. It might fit into the ‘conversational’ style that some like. But frankly I would rather hear from people talking about their latest chart position or their latest review.

    I have concluded that we should all do our own thing. If you want to talk about what you had for lunch then fine. I’m not interested, but other people might be. If you want to talk about your book all the time, some people might be turned off. I wouldn’t be. But I think that’s the point. You’re not going to please everybody, so go with what feels right to you.

  12. says

    Fantastic stuff, Rachel, much thanks. You’re right that we shouldn’t approach Twitter with hard and fast rules. I guess the “principle” I try to follow with Twitter is simply to give value with every tweet. That value may be some creative content of mine, a great article I read–a few minutes ago I tweeted something from the Wall Street Journal–or even something funny. Like you I don’t much care about tweets concerning my or somebody else’s lunch–unless they’re offering to buy! All that being said, I don’t want constantly to be hit with tweets saying “buy my book for 99 cents.” Some of that is fine but too much (for me) becomes boring. Direct sales tweets are one kind of value one can bring to Twitter, to be sure. But I like to receive and give a wide menu of valuable content.

  13. says

    Excellent podcast with Rachel Abbott! This was one of the most comprehensive interviews I’ve heard about all topics related to indie publishing and marketing.

    It couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’ve been publishing since 2010 and have free short mysteries, .99 cent novels and romantic suspense novels, and just published this week my first full length murder mystery, Rex Royale, on Kindle and distributed by Smashwords.

    I had a modest pre-publishing marketing plan in place, but will take your and Rachel’s advice about having a comprehensive marketing plan after the book comes out — and doing it. Committing to
    several hours a day on forums and getting reviews w/ professional prepared material.

    Keep up the great work. I’ll be following your posts and podcasts.

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback, Jack. I’m glad you thought it was useful. It’s hard work, but it’s also great fun. I’ve met some brilliant people on Twitter and on forums, and I really enjoyed every minute of it. Good luck with your book.


  14. says

    One of Joanna’s earlier guests said the market is changing so fast that anything a few months old is out of date. This post, updating us with a recent success story, is something indie writers owe you a debt of gratitude for. Thank You!

    Rachel, I’ve scoured your marketing plan all morning and find it one of the most honest and comprehensive in the field. And I’ve spent decades in sales & marketing for F500 companies! Thank you for sharing that and the many other gems. I’ve bought your book and can’t wait to read it.

    • says

      Thank you very much for your kind comments. I realised when I started to market my book that it’s really hard, and I knew that I was one of the lucky ones because of my experience in both marketing and interactive media. Social networking didn’t hold that many mysteries, but even with experience it can be frustrating to try to understand all the options and make the most of them. I am very happy to share anything that I have learned, and wish I had more time to do that!

      I do hope you enjoy Only the Innocent. I have been re-editing it recently to make a more polished version, and working on my next book too. Never a dull moment for an indie author!

  15. says

    I’ve been using a lot of both Rachel’s and Joanna’s tips and it has been a great help. The internet truly is better when people like these two provide the little details for people who are serious about deconstructing their own marketing plans. I’m a little stuck on one thing. I’m going to have some Createspace versions of my ebook available soon (many people keep asking me for hardcopy) and I’m not sure how to price it. I was thinking that mabye 11.99 would be a fair ebook price (and still provide reasonably enough royalties). Do you have a take on this Joanna? Or have you ever written a blog post on pricing strategies for POD (print on demand) books? I ask mainly because each book will need its own barcode (with the price on it) so there is a cost if you keep adjusting the price. Would love any two cents you can give.

  16. says

    You wrote, “But low price is important when people haven’t heard of you.” Who says? If you are going to approach this as a marketer, then you must use marketing testing techniques to decide what the best price is and not some ol’ wives tale. The best thing to do is to test your elasticity. Keep increasing the price until you are no longer making more money, then regress back to the sweet spot. Congrats on your success. I’m not trying to challenge your methods, just adding to the discussion.

  17. says

    A great article for anyone with a newly published book. I like the idea of having a marketing plan. Also that she spent time connecting to readers in forums. I’m coming up on 1 month since I published my novel, VENGEANCE – Book one in the Reece Culver Thriller series, and I find it difficult sometimes to balance marketing /writing/ and working my day job. Any tips us newly published authors can gain are extremely helpful. Thanks again Bryan


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