How I sold 10,000+ copies without investing a single penny
There will be authors who tell you that you need to make social media posts about an upcoming book three months before its release.
There will be others who swear by teasers and book trailers.
Some authors will advise you to send 1,000+ copies of your book and ask for reviews on its release day.
What if I tell you I did none of these and still managed to sell 10,000+ copies of my book in less than a year?
My book, What did Tashi do?, was released on 8th February 2019.
I committed a mistake that no author should make. I released the book without even letting my audience know that there was a new book coming up.
That’s right. On release day, I dropped a bombshell. None of my followers, except a few close friends, were even aware that I was writing a book.
One reason for this is that I am impulsive and impatient, and once the manuscript was finalised, I couldn’t wait for the world to see it. Another reason is that a contest on Amazon was going on at that time. Known as the Amazon Pen to Publish contest, the books published on Amazon KDP within a particular time frame were eligible for entry. I submitted my book with barely two days remaining.
I didn’t win the contest, but the book has changed my life in so many ways. I got readers messaging me that the story helped them move on after a break up of three years ago, while others told me this is a story that should be included in the school curriculum across India.
Despite the poorly-planned release, I managed to sell 10,000+ copies of my book in less than a year.
How did I manage these statistics?
Read on to know the four-step strategy I followed.
1. Have an Online Presence
As an author, it is imperative that you build an online presence, whether or not you plan to release your book any time soon. You should make regular posts and develop a unique voice so that your audience knows what to expect when they read your words. Build a community of fans who appreciate your content and will read whatever you publish.
Here is what I did to establish my unique voice on the internet.
Pick your platform
No matter how active you are online, it is unrealistic to expect that you will achieve success on all social media platforms. A more achievable goal is: pick out two platforms that work the best for you and stick religiously to them.
I had been writing on Quora since 2014 and was already a two-time Top Writer with 55,000+ followers. Needless to say, Quora was my obvious choice.
Apart from that, I had a decent audience on Instagram with a reasonably high engagement ratio.
Before you make your decision, you need to understand that all the platforms have different requirements. If you plan to repost the same content on all the platforms, you might not succeed.
The trick here is to take care of the formatting. Even if your content remains the same, you can repurpose it and format it in such a way that works with your platform of choice.
For example, Quora readers love short pieces with a valuable takeaway. Instagram is more picture-oriented, and you might have to brush up your photo editing skills. Even the captions on Instagram work differently — leaving lots of blank spaces in between your sentences makes your content more readable, and using the right hashtags will increase its reach.
Pick your niche
Before you blindly start posting content, you need to pick your niche: what is it that you want to write about? Of course, since you plan to publish a book someday, the topics that you love to write about the most are going to make an appearance in your writing. So, once you have picked your platform, start writing articles that are relevant to your book’s plot.
I don’t mean sharing book excerpts. But, stick to the topic your book is going to deal with.
My book, What did Tashi do?, is a cybercrime thriller depicting the impact leaked personal images can have on a woman’s life. While I was writing this book, I was also subconsciously advocating women’s rights and writing about the need to be careful before choosing what kind of content you post online. Thus, by the time my book was released, my audience already knew two things: Anangsha writes about women’s issues, and Anangsha writes about cybersecurity.
Since they had been reading my articles for quite a while, several of my followers purchased my book on the day of its release because they knew what to expect from me and also the tone of my writing.
I would have made that “Post daily,” but if you have a day job, writing a new article online is challenging. What you can do is make a routine, a fixed schedule of posting, so that the audience knows what to expect from you and when. Stick to your routine so religiously that if you miss a single day, your inbox is flooded with messages from readers enquiring about your well-being and asking why you didn’t post that day.
Don’t underestimate the power of a community
I know, you can’t wait to finish your book, publish it, and make millions of dollars. Compared to that dream, writing an article daily might sound like a chore, especially if you make no money out of it.
But hear me out: when you post frequently on a platform, you are not just churning out content, you are building a community.
Even if your book is not due for another year, you are impacting the lives of hundreds of users. These users are not bots, but real people who will remember you and know what to expect from you. The older your community, the better suited you will be to sell more books. Imagine how much impact a long-term fan can have on your book sales.
2. Build a Mailing List
We all know email marketing sucks. Nobody clicks on those hundreds of emails flooding their inboxes each morning. But, when you build a mailing list, the equation is changed. Here’s why: all your subscribers are people who have taken the time to click on your invite link and type in their names and email addresses. They are not casual fans; they are your loyal supporters. They want to read more from you.
When you send regular emails to people who want to read more from you, they are going to read. And when you release a new book, they will be your first customers.
I started my mailing list somewhere in May 2019 — after my book was released. But since then, every email I have sent has garnered encouraging results in the form of book sales, article reads, or link clicks. My email family is 700+ strong now and growing by the day. I send out periodic newsletters about the progress of my book, what new articles I am working on, and observations about life in general.
There are some excellent services that let you collect and store email addresses and send out regular newsletters. For my email list, I use MailChimp, that gives you free functionality until 2,000 subscribers. Some services that I have seen other authors use are ConvertKit and MailerLite.
Growing your subscriber count
I could write an entire article about how to grow your email list, but, trust me when I say this: nothing works as magically as organic growth. When you write articles on your two social media platforms on a daily basis, include a call to action (CTA) at the end, and ask your readers to join your email family. Apart from that, here are a few quick tips.
- Promise your subscribers a freebie or two once they join. This could be a five-day course, a tutorial, an ebook of curated articles, check-lists/cheat-sheets, or anything of your choice.
- Send out valuable emails and ask your subscribers to forward the emails to their friends if they enjoyed reading.
- Add questions and prompt readers to reply to your emails. This increases their feeling of being part of a family and being able to talk to you directly.
3. Have an Offline Presence
Seek out places in your city where creative people gather. Attend book club meet-ups, open mics, literary festivals — any place where you can meet prospective readers. Don’t sell your book to them, but establish yourself. Make it known among the creatives in your city that you are a force to be reckoned with.
I know, as authors, most of us tend to be shy and introverted. I am no exception. To be honest, I am terrified of public speaking. Even attending a phone call from an unknown number makes me anxious.
But, in all my 27 years of life, if there is one thing I have realised, it is this: the only thing that can stop you from achieving your dreams is the voice inside your head that keeps saying you are not good enough.
The best news is: if the voice telling you that you cannot speak up is your own, the voice telling you that you can is also going to be your own.
The change is not going to happen overnight. But it is going to happen.
And the only person who can bring about that change is you.
I have done the same.
As an independent author with no marketing agency backing you, this is something you’ve got to do. When you attend literary festivals and manage to impress a few readers with your work, word will travel fast. Before you know it, you will be invited as a speaker or chief-guest to book club gatherings and literature festivals.
Always carry a few copies of your books when you go to literary events. You never know when someone might ask for an autographed copy.
I started by attending a book club meetup in my city (Guwahati, Assam). I was so nervous about going there and meeting so many strangers, that I was hoping the meet-up would get cancelled. It wasn’t, and I had to swallow my self-consciousness and attend. Later that night, I remember feeling so grateful I did.
I met three book reviewers who were so fascinated with my introduction, that they asked for review copies. This was followed by three beautiful reviews on Instagram which led to even more review requests.
I also made friends with the hosts of the book club. They invited me as the guest author in their next meet-up, and also as a speaker in one of the literary festivals they organised. Here is a picture of me giving a speech on “Women in Literature” as a part of the International Woman’s Day festivities organised by the book club.
I started this aggressive approach to making public appearances in August 2019. Since then, I have been invited as a speaker in five talks, performed in four open mics, and conducted two author workshops. If the entire country had not been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have probably attended even more events.
As I mentioned before, do not underestimate the power of a community. The more public appearances you make, the more people will be fascinated by your presence, and the more they will want to read your book. And the more events you are invited to, the more you can leverage them to get future invites.
It is a cycle that feeds itself. The only thing you have to do is start it.
Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Seize whatever chance you get to make your presence felt and give it your best shot. The readers’ community in your city already exists. Be proactive and leverage it.
4. Network, Network, Network
As Bojack Horseman famously quoted (and I whole-heartedly agree):
“In this terrifying world, all we have are the connections we make.”
When your book is out in the world, and you have not hired a marketing agency, the onus falls on you to spread the word. These are a few avenues that worked for me, and I am sure they will work for you too.
Since I chose Instagram as one of my social media platforms to be active on, I clicked on the #Bookstagram hashtag and made a list of all the Bookstagrammers (Book-Instagrammers, AKA people who post book reviews on Instagram) who were active and had a decent following. Then, I started engaging with their posts, commenting on their reviews, and making friends with them in general.
I made genuine connections with them over time, and when my book was out, and I asked them to write a review for me, they refused to take money for it even when I offered.
Review exchanges with other authors
Twitter is a wonderful place to meet new #IndieAuthors. Every April, the #WritingCommunity on Twitter hosts a wonderful initiative called #IndieApril where they put out regular posts for indie authors to post their book blurbs and links.
I used to spend a lot of time on Twitter, reading through #IndieApril threads and spotting books that sparked my attention. When I spotted ones that I would likely enjoy, I replied with a review-for-review exchange. With a few exceptions, everyone I met was gracious enough to accept my request, read my book, and leave genuine feedback. In return, I made some great friends and was introduced to some truly amazing books.
Shameless Self Promo Saturday
In addition to #IndieApril, Twitter also hosts #ShamelessSelfPromoSaturdays every week where Indie authors are encouraged to promote themselves shamelessly. I took part in them almost every week for the whole of last year and ended up selling at least 1,000 books through Twitter alone.
The Bottom Line
Selling 10,000+ copies of your book is not an easy task, and you have to invest a lot of effort into doing so. Here is a small summary of the article to help you understand all the things I did to promote my book for free.
- Pick two social media platforms and publish posts related to my niche frequently.
- Build a mailing list and send out frequent newsletters to engage with my subscribers.
- Attend literary gatherings in my city and proactively seek out opportunities to speak or conduct writing workshops.
- Network on Twitter and Instagram with fellow authors and book reviewers.
All of these steps take up a lot of time. But, they have far-reaching rewards extending beyond just book sales. You are building a community, a self-sustaining ecosystem consisting of readers and fellow writers.
If you keep up these efforts all year round, you will have built a robust community by the time your next book is out.
And then, my friend, no one would be able to stop you from being a bestselling author.