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How We Turned a Paper Shortage into an Amazon Bestseller

This was the email I received from our major printer at the end of February.

“Keeping up with the rising cost of materials, especially paper, has been challenging in the current market. Due to extended turn time, we may still provide revised quotes when purchase orders are received, we will also be adding a line item to invoices to reflect the true cost of the materials used to produce the order.”

Translation: Your costs and your turnaround times are going up, up, up. We’ll let you know how much and how long when you send in your purchase order.

On the heels of that notice, another one of our printers called. “Steve, paper costs are going up, but that doesn’t matter much because we can’t get paper.” (no translation required).

The world was just beginning to crawl out of the COVID nightmare and back toward something resembling normal.

Most of our authors are ministry leaders and public speakers. They sell a lot of books to their audience at speaking engagements and live events. We try to plan their book launches around a big event or the beginning of their speaking season, but for the last two years, COVID had put a kink in that strategy. Now, finally, our authors were finally beginning to book engagements again.

Now there’s a paper shortage?

Great.

Chris Maxwell is one of our speaker/authors and a good friend. His eleventh book, Equilibrium: 31 Ways to Stay Balanced on Life’s Uneven Surfaces, was supposed to launch on April 1. April Fool’s Day. Considering the current situation, I thought the launch date to be particularly ironic.

Chris was booking speaking engagements for Spring and Summer and I was sweating launch day. It’s kind of tough to launch a new book without …well, books. After two years of sitting on the COVID sidelines, we weren’t going to call off his book launch, even if there was a chance that his books wouldn’t make the launch party.

April 1 was just over thirty days away. What were we going to do? Give out book vouchers? I could probably bribe or beg one of my printers to run a hundred books for the first launch party, but that wouldn’t come close to covering launch week.

Then I considered Amazon. Our authors sell a lot of books directly to their audiences. We sell a lot of books directly via our promotions and online store. And, of course, our books are always available on Amazon, the biggest bookstore on the planet.

In addition to being the biggest seller of printed books, Amazon’s Kindle dominates, I mean DOMINATES, the world eBook market. And eBooks are immune to paper shortages! Why not turn the spotlight on Amazon for launch day? Instead of directing Chris’s readers to his website and to our store, why not direct them to Amazon? And rather just direct them to Amazon, why not make a big deal out of it. Plan an Amazon launch party with Kindle in the forefront?

 

The Plan

So many Christian leaders had endorsed Equilibrium even before we launched. We shared their endorsements on Social Media and were counting on their influence as they shared Chris’s message with their audiences.

We’d also need a ground team of supporters and fans spreading the news online. Chris spoke at a small Bible college and asked for volunteers; about fifteen students raised their hands. We garnered more from Chris’s local audience and ended up with 58 people on the “launch team.” Chris also talked about the book and the launch on his “Next Step Leadership” podcast in the weeks leading up to the launch.

We created a “launch party” web page and four weeks of Social Media posts announcing the upcoming book launch. Each day we’d post something about the book launch along with images of interesting people in interesting places reading a book mocked up with the Equilibrium cover. We’d also post short videos of Chris talking about the book. The goal was to post every day to multiple Social Media platforms. Our launch team would either share the post or create a new post from the content and share it with their audiences. If you think about the math, around 8,000 people follow us on Social Media. Each of our launch team members may be followed by 500 people. 58 x 500 = 29,000. Our potential combined Social Media reach maybe 37,000 people, not including the people in our combined audience sharing with their followers. The fact that we’re all posting about Equilibrium at least once a day for 30 days makes an impact.

“Chris Maxwell is nothing if not creative, but his is that particularly winsome brand of creativity that causes the reader to see it, whatever it is, from a different angle. We live a dark and confusing world. Maxwell’s prose and his poetry are just the antidote you’ve been looking for—creative, a bit capricious, and wonderfully uplifting.”

Mark Rutland

Executive Director, National Institute of Christian Leadership

We sent advanced digital copies of the book to the people on our launch team so they could get a sneak peek and be ready to write a review after the book was launched.

On launch day we priced the Kindle version at $0.00 and kept it there during the first five days of the launch. Because we promoted the book to our combined audiences for 30 days before it launched, all of our “friends” and “followers” knew about it. Pricing it at $0.00 for the first five days gave them no excuse for not “buying” it. The result was impressive!

Equilibrium ranked:

  • #1 on Kindle in the Christian Professional Growth Category.
  • #2 on Kindle in the Personal Growth & Christianity category.
  • #1205 on Kindle overall. Considering there are more than 10 million books on Kindle, ranking #1205 is amazing!

After launch week we moved the Kindle price to $0.99 for a few weeks to keep the momentum growing and rank for “paid” books.

Epilogue

Now, months after the book launch. The Kindle edition is at its retail price of $7.99 and the print edition is listed at $15.99. Equilibrium is still ranked higher on Amazon than any of Chris’s other books. The paper shortage isn’t over but it has eased. We were able to supply books for all of Chris’s speaking engagements. Amazon sales are steady in both Kindle and print format and we’ve sold more than five hundred print copies of Equilibrium to our direct audience in the last 60 days.

In my book, Seven Questions That You Must Answer Before Publishing Your Book, I said that making a bestseller list should not be your primary goal for writing a book; but it does make a great outcome. The goal for the book has always been to make a positive impact on people’s lives. The response from readers whose lives were made brighter by Equilibrium has been amazing. Our goal for the launch was to put this book into as many hands as we could in the first week; our Amazon strategy was part of that goal. It worked great and it resulted in hundreds of people reading Chris’s book on launch week, even more after launch week, and it continues today. Hundreds of books will be given to incoming college students this fall to help them make that sometimes difficult transition from home life as a kid to college life as an adult. The folks who made that happen believe in the message of Equilibrium, but I’d be lying if I said they weren’t impressed just a little by its bestseller status.

* P.S. Shout out to Tyler Basu for tips from his great blog post: “The Book Launch Strategy Of A #1 Amazon Bestseller”.

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