How THREAD OF HOPE Hit #1 At Amazon

You might wanna grab a little more coffee and something to eat because this is gonna be kinda long.  Maybe tell your friends you’re gonna be tied up for awhile.

So over the holidays I published my novel THREAD OF HOPE over at Amazon through their Kindle Direct Publishing program.  This was a novel that had been shopped around with traditional publishers for awhile and despite some near misses, we came up empty in finding a home for it.  It was languishing in my computer, whining at me every day DO SOMETHING WITH ME PLEASE, I’M BORED.  So I finally listened.

I had listened to the success some other author friends had with publishing electronically, but I admit – I didn’t pay too much attention.  I’ve had too many other things going on in my life to really dig into the shifting publishing landscape and get a firm grasp on it.

But there were three things I consistently heard:

  • it was easy to do
  • I’d have close to complete control
  • the books sold.

I figured that I had nothing to lose.  I knew the book was polished.  I knew that traditional publishing doesn’t always know what sells.  I knew I had a small group of people who were familiar with my name because of the other books I’d published.  I knew that I could handle it if not a single soul was interested in the book because, well, I’ve known that feeling during different times in my career as a writer.

So it went live on Amazon on December 31st.

And promptly didn’t do much of anything.

Sure, my family and friends grabbed a copy and a random copy or two would sell each day.  But it did nothing to set the world on fire.

Which was actually fine because I had no expectations for the book.  I was just testing the waters, learning about epublishing and this brave new world.

When I published the book, I signed up for the KDP Select program, which most have probably already heard too much about.  Long story short – the book can be loaned if you’re an Amazon Prime member and, as the author, I could give the book away for free for a few days if I wanted.

Now, I’m not here to debate the merits of giving one’s work away for free.  I know all of the arguments and I can make a case for either side.  But for this book, because I didn’t have any expectations and because I simply wanted to get the word out, I decided I would give the book away for free on February 6th and 7th.

When I woke up Monday morning, it was already flying.  I think the most I’d sold in any one day prior to that day was six.

When I woke up that day at about 5:30am, it had already been downloaded 287 times in the approximately three and a half hours it had been available for free.

Interesting.

I got up, went to work.

And I could hear it whistling at is flew up the free bestseller list.

I admit – “free bestseller” is an oxymoron.  It’s not selling.  It’s giving.  But seeing it climb any list that has “bestseller” in the title is always going to be welcome.

I had done some planning ahead, thanks to the smart folks over at the Kindle Boards, and contacted several of the big ereader sites that notify their followers and readers about free Kindle books. Ereader News Today picked it up first and let people know that morning.

And downloads spiked.

And then Pixel of Ink – the Holy Grail of ebook news – let their readers and followers know about it in their midday post.

And it was gasoline on the fire in the best of ways.  A tiny spark raged into an inferno.

At 9:47pm on Monday night, I checked Amazon.

THREAD OF HOPE was the most downloaded book in all of Amazon land.  Not in mysteries.  Not in fiction.  But in all books.  Number Freaking One.

I don’t recall the exact number, but THREAD OF HOPE had been downloaded somewhere in the neighborhood of 28,000 times.

Whoa.

And it parked itself there for all of Tuesday.  I did not track the numbers exactly but it was somewhere around 40,000 downloads when it went back to paid in the middle of the night between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Now came the interesting chart.

The aforementioned friends – particularly Anthony Neil Smith and Victor Gischler – assured me that the success the book experienced while being free would carry over into the paid sales column.

I had expanded my readership and, more importantly, Amazon was now aware of me.

The paid sales were immediate.

Immediate.

And it slowly started to climbed the bestseller list.

And this time it was actually selling.

It moved steadily on Wednesday and Thursday, hitting different milestones along the way.  Top 100 for all books.  Top 10 in mystery.

To say I was freaking out would be a bit of an understatement.  But you have to understand.  My career had come to a screeching halt for several years before getting jumpstarted again in 2011.  And even after the jumpstart, I knew my audience was still small.  In a matter of several days, I was gaining more exposure – and financial success – than I’d ever had.  Seeing my name up there with Janet Evanovich and Stieg Larsson was strange and odd and fantastic and a million other things.

On Friday morning, when I woke up, it was at #4 on the mystery list, right behind the three Larsson books which had been entrenched on the bestseller list for, like, three years.  That isn’t an exaggeration.  Three years.

I was giddy.  I think it was #25 overall – something like that.  I honestly can’t recall all of the details.

At 2:15pm, I checked the rankings.

THREAD OF HOPE was #1 on the mystery list.

In approximately 110 hours, it went from complete obscurity to the bestselling book in the mystery genre at Amazon.

I was shocked.  My students came into my room and I was a stuttering mess because I couldn’t focus, couldn’t concentrate.

I think it was there for about twelve hours before Larsson retook his spot atop the mountaintop.

And it has continued to sell.

A lot.  As I write this, it’s hovering around the #50 spot in mysteries, #500 overall.

A week later.  So there’s been some staying power.  And, um, a fair amount of money.

How did it happen?

I’m not really sure – I don’t think you can ever be sure – but here are some things that I think contributed:

1.  Planning.  Making sure that people knew it was going to be free was key.  My networks only reach so far.  When other places picked it up and told their networks, it had a snowball effect.  Once it got up on the lists, people found it easily.

2.  The cover.  JT Lindroos did the cover for THREAD OF HOPE (Neil pointed me in his direction) and it’s fantastic.  In a sea of book covers, I think he nailed it and I think it looks fantastic. And covers matter to people buying ebooks.

3. At the risk of sounding like a jerk…it’s a good book.  I spent a ton of time on it and it was vetted by a number of people who helped make it better.  It’s polished and clean.  I think the reviews that I’ve garnered in the last two weeks confirm that.

4.  Luck.  Because big numbers require a little luck.  Where it came from, I’ll never know.

5.  Clearly, I’m the next Stieg Larsson.  Kidding.

6.  The writing community.  Nearly every writer I know will do anything they can to help out another writer. When the book hit and I started sending out the info, other writers sent out tweets and posted it on Facebook and told everyone they knew.  It’s what writers do.  They don’t just write.  They support.  Because they know what it’s like.

There are probably about a hundred other things that contributed, but those are the first reasons that come to mind.

So now what?  What’s the fallout?

I’m the first to admit this has all caught me unprepared.  I didn’t expect for people to be clamoring for the next book in the series.  I didn’t expect for people within the publishing industry – digital and print – to show interest.  I didn’t expect for so much to change in such a short amount of time.

I have a lot to think about.

But I am writing.  The second Joe book.  The fourth Noah book.  A collection of short stories featuring Joe and Noah.  With a fabulous cover that J.T. has done.  Which I’ll be unveiling here tomorrow.  With a release date for the shorts.  A very, very near release date.

So thank you.  To everyone who downloaded the book, who publicized the book, who told a friend about the book, who sent me an email congratulating me, who wrote a review of the book, who asked for the next book.

Thank you all.

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51 comments

  1. I just read this book after downloading it for free on Amazon. I loved it! I actually stayed up last night much later than I should have just to finish reading it. I have very little patience, so I’m ready for the sequel! I surely hope Joe finds some closure with his daughter. I am also an English teacher, and if I have any criticism for you and this book, it would be that there were a few grammatical errors here and there that didn’t seem to be stylistic. There was also what seemed to be a typo or two. However, I tend to focus much more on the plot and character development. After all, that is what sucks you into a book. I don’t often find myself crying or laughing over how grammatically correct a text is. Lol! You are a great writer, and I truly enjoyed reading your work. I look forward to the sequel! Congratulations on your success, and thank you for your contribution to literature!

  2. My book Daughters was always just behind or below yours Jeff and I watched your book with interest and amazement. So glad I read this post and wish you the best of luck. Also, they put Daughters as an “also bought” on your page (strange because the two books couldn’t be further apart in genre). I’m going to watch out for your work.

    Excellent story.

    1. Consuelo – I remember your book!!! I was watching all of the book that were moving!!! And that is really odd that someone bought both – but maybe it was just about proximity?? I don’t know. Regardless – good luck!!!

  3. Hey, Jeff, congratulations on the awesome success with Thread of Hope. Much as I’m not a fan of the exclusivity of KDP Select, the hope of getting one of my books that’s not selling so well some exposure makes me consider giving it a try. (Plus it’s been out for awhile and family/friends who have Nooks have already bought their copies) You mentioned that you let ENT and POI know about the free days ahead of time…did you have to pay for that, or did you just email them in advance?

    1. Hey Stacey – thanks for the kind words. I hear you about the exclusivity – I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, but ultimately decided that I’d give it a shot and if I got nothing out of it, then I could expand to other venues after the 90 day period. I didn’t have to pay at ENT or POI – I emailed ENT and POI has a form that you fill out. I emailed ENT the night before it went free – that was a mistake on my part – they were on my list to contact a week before and I simply forgot – and I filled out the POI form about a week before. So it’s pretty much luck of the draw. :)

  4. What I want to know is what you did with all of the bodies of the millions of sacred goats you had to have sacrificed to make this happen.

  5. Congrats Jeff- had a very similar experience at the end of January. My book went from dead in the water to #34 overall in 7 days. An incredible ride

  6. Great info Jeff and well done. I’m just about to try a free promo with my book ‘From the Storm’, which I self-published last month, so it’s good to hear of a positive experience.

    Hope you don’t mind the link, but I’ll be posting about my own experience of the process here: http://www.adrianjwalker.com in due course.

    Other than ENT and POI, was there anyone else you contacted about the promo?

    Congrats again and keep it up.

    1. Hey Adrian – thanks for the kind words. ENT and POI were the only ones I contacted. Over at the Kindle Boards, there are links to a bunch of other places that publicize free books. I’ll try and hit those when I do this again. And no prob on the link – I’ll check in and see how it’s going. Good luck!

  7. I put my novels (I have three in both paper and Kindle) on Amazon Prime and gave the second (“Hog Valley”) away for free for 3 days. That was last month. My sales on all three have more than quadrupled. My fourth should be out in Kindle format in another month, and I’ll do another giveaway at that time.

    I wish all the very best in your writing career.

  8. Congrats on your KDP Select success! I plan to upload three books on KDP Select soon and use the same websites you mentioned prior to launch. Each book is in a separate genre, so I’m very curious to see what happens.

  9. Interesting and useful stuff. And hey, congrats. Here’s hoping you are the next Stieg Larrsson – except for that whole dying part. Damn Scandanavians have been stealing our mojo long enough.

  10. Hey, Jeff congratulations. That’s a fantastic result! I went free on the 31st December too with kdp select and had over 19,000 downloads over two days, when I went back to paid I made number 1 in romance for a few hours, and got as high as number 4 in fiction (woo!) I sold a lot in Jan, but things have slowed right down in Feb :(
    I have a new romance out in Feb, and am hoping to have a good result with it, I’m waiting for a few reviews from book reviewers to come onto it before I go free. Couple of questions for you – what price did you come off free at? And how many reviews did you have when you put it free? I think both of these things can be a factor, so just asking!

  11. I just finished your book. Amazon offered it up when I went searching for a mystery. I enjoyed it and found your site while Google searching for a sequel on Joe. I want to know what happened when he went to Minneapolis at the end of the story. Glad to see you are going to tell that tale. I also enjoyed reading about your epublishing adventure. Congratulations!

  12. I ordered this when it was offered for free and it was incredible!! I can’t wait for the next book. Rarely do I go to an authors website and sign up on a blog but I need to know the instant the next book is available!!!!!

  13. I loved this book. I did download it from Ereader News Today and read it over the weekend. In saying this, I did google and search for another book within this series. I loved the characters, the writing, etc. If I would have found a sequel to this book, I would have paid for it. Good luck in the future and thanks for not letting your book sit in your computer….Hope you will continue with Joe’s search for his daughter…Sincerely..a NEW FAN

  14. Good title and great cover. Thanks for generously taking the time out from your ‘Scrooge McDuck’ (diving into those piles of lucre) to share your knowledge. May you continue to have brilliant success.

  15. No, thank you! I rarely, if ever make the effort to search for a sequel in the way I have for the one to “thread of hope”. Your book was a success because it is awesome. Period. I couldn’t put it down, and I can’t wait to read more. So glad that you were able to get your work out where it could be appreciated! It was also great to read this post, very interesting to hear the backstory :). Now I am off to read one of your Noah books, which I just downloaded (and paid for :).

  16. Read the book…loved it but it needs a sequel…and ending. Joe has to find his daughter. You can’t just leave it hanging. As a parent who has lost a child I cannot stand an unfinished story…a sequel please.

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