On Writing: Part III – Self Publishing & How to Hit Amazon’s Top 10 List

Tomorrow I will post the second installment of The Forgotten Beatitude – so stay tuned.

Last year, Jeff Goins interviewed me on the subject of writing. I’m publishing the complete, unedited interview on the blog in three installments. Whether you are an author, a blogger, or someone who likes to post long notes on Facebook, I hope you will be inspired by the interview. 

Your most recent book Epic Jesus is a self-published eBook and seems to be doing rather well. I understand that you gave away a lot of copies of it. Some people say that there is such a thing as being too generous with your “art.” What do you think? Does “free” help or hurt book sales?

Epic Jesus is a short book (24 pages), but it’s dense. I’d call it a pregnant book that crams 200 pages of content into 24.

On November 1st, we gave away a free copy of the book to our blog subscribers for a 72-hour window. It was a sneak preview. On November 3rd, it was made available on Kindle, Nook, and PDF for $3.99 USD.

For the first three weeks of its release, the book stayed around #16 in “Christian Living” on Amazon Kindle. I was amazed by that, especially after we had given the book away to thousands of people just days before. It was humbling.

The PDF version is showing lots of interest also. The Nook version has had slow activity.

We regularly give away free resources (sometimes books) to our blog subscribers and our newsletter subscribers.

Since I don’t profit personally from my books, sales aren’t too big of a deal to me. Consequently, I’ve never researched whether or not our give-aways helped or hurt sales, and honestly, I wouldn’t know how to track that if I wanted to.

What I’m mostly concerned about is getting the message out to every person who is interested in the subjects.

I’m always encouraged when I receive letters and emails from people saying, “I just heard of your book (usually “Revise Us Again,” “From Eternity to Here,” “Finding Organic Church,” “Reimagining Church,” or “Jesus Manifesto”), and it’s what I’ve been searching for and desiring for years, but never knew it existed.”

For an author, comments like that have a tendency to make one’s day.

I know that when you work on a book you sometimes have to stop blogging. Is there a tension between writing for now versus writing for later? How do you balance this? 

I began blogging in the Summer of 2008. From then until May of 2011, I blogged while writing books. But in May, I took up a new book project that’s formidable. So I began my first blog sabbatical from then until January 2012.

Interestingly, the subscription to the blog has almost doubled since I was on the sabbatical. Each day new people find the blog, read some of the posts in the archives, and subscribe. This is encouraging, and I didn’t expect it.

Regarding blogging, I typically have several bloggable ideas per day. So I have a blog queue on my computer in which I type in those ideas. Sometimes I’ll write an entire post based on one of those ideas. I then queue them up for publication at a later time.

At the moment, I have over 100 blog posts queued up for when I resume blogging. And in my judgment at least, they are among the best I’ve written so far.

What did you do to get on Amazon’s top 10 list? And do you have any other tips for book launches?

Shortly after George Barna and I released Pagan Christianity, someone at Tyndale House suggested that we do an Amazon campaign to make more people aware of the book.

So the marketing people at Tyndale sent out special mailings, asking readers to purchase the book on a certain day from Amazon. George and I sent out a mailing to our subscribers, letting them know about the campaign also.

Interestingly, we launched the campaign a full month after the book had already released and thousands of people had already purchased it.

Even so, on the day of the campaign, the book hit #11 out of all books on Amazon. I believe we would have had a good shot at hitting #1 if we started the campaign when the book released. But we were a month late.

When Leonard Sweet and I released Jesus Manifesto in 2010, Thomas Nelson did the same thing. We asked all our subscribers to purchase the book on a certain day. As a result, “Jesus Manifesto” hit #6 out all books on Amazon.

It made #1 in non-fiction books on Amazon and #1 in “Christianity.” (My book Finding Organic Church hit #12 on Amazon out of all books using the same strategy.)

Perhaps the lesson here is that if an author has enough people who believe in what she or he is doing, those people will support their work in dramatic ways.

Some of my readers have told me that they were happy to support the books in this way, especially because we had given away so many free resources over the years.

I guess this brings us back to your earlier question. Perhaps giving away free resources does help book sales down the road somehow. Undoubtedly, other authors have tracked this and can give a more accurate answer than I can.

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Frank Viola
FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply, gain fresh perspectives on old or ignored subjects, and make the Bible come alive. Viola has written many books on these themes, including God's Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. His blog, Beyond Evangelical, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.

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