Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Flash Mobbing with Scott Nicholson

This is a guest post from my friend, thriller author Scott Nicholson, who is proposing an interesting experiment. Let's see if it works...


Can an indie author game the Amazon rankings with a flash mob?

In the old days, your paperback came out and you worked yourself into a froth, knowing you had 30 days to move the product off the store shelves before the next tidal wave of similarly disposable books rolled out. Your fever was fueled by the promise that your publisher would drop you if the next guy had better sales than you. Now all that has changed. With e-books, your window is as wide as you want and the bookstore is open 24 hours around the world and doesn't have the front entrance blocked by stacks of the same dozen bestsellers.

In my new novel DRUMMER BOY, a misfit kid is all that stands between an Appalachian mountain town and a ghostly Civil War troop, and he must choose between a world that doesn't want him and a world that wants him forever.

I'm thinking if I can get 15 or 20 sales in a single hour for DRUMMER BOY, it will crack the Top 100. So I picked Tuesday, May 11 at 3 p.m. EST as my flash mob hour, based on the phenomenon of a bunch of strangers pre-arranging to randomly meet at a given time and place. While flash mobs generally target physically locations, there's no reason for people to leave their computers for a digital flash.

Even if you don't buy the book, just logging into your Amazon account and clicking on the DRUMMER BOY page should cause some interesting effects on its "Recommendations" appearances. Since you're reading this on Joe's blog, you know he's been forward-thinking on ways to expand an e-book audience and outflank traditional publishers. I'll be happy to report back on the results of the experiment, including real numbers and rankings, which may help you decide to try a flash mob yourself.

Through some informal collective efforts, I've seen rankings go up for one-day blitzes, and if those sales could have been focused into a narrower time window, the results might have been been even more dramatic. Nothing sells books like being a bestseller.

Right now, the fun is in the experiment, but I am giving away the bonus zombie story "Dead Ink" or the autobiographical "Dead Cats and Rain" to people who buy the kindle ebook during that hour. I'll also be live-blogging it at http://hauntedcomputer.blogspot.com, which mirrors on my Author Central page at Amazon.

If inspired, please blog, Tweet, and Facebook it. The book link is http://www.amazon.com/Drummer-Boy-ebook/dp/B003F77EP4. You can get a "Beat it at Three" banner by emailing hauntedcomputer AT yahoo.com.

It's crazy, it's mod, and it's a free experiment in mass social-media psychology and book-pimping. And, if it's any enticement, it feels a little subversive.

Joe sez: For $1.99, buy the book. Let's see what this can do. Also, click on the "Tags Customers Associate With The Product" under the book description on the Amazon page. I've very curious how important tags are in a book's ranking.

If you miss the 3pm mob time, you can still buy the book afterward and keep the momentum going. This is a smart idea, and if only a dozen books sold in an hour is enough to crack the top #100, watch me steal this idea for my next two releases.

What are my next two releases, you ask?

They're two brand new, full length Jack Kilborn horror novels, coming to Kindle this month, and to print later this summer:


Anonymous said...

I'm one of those people who doesn't think that these "flash mobs" to inflate a book's ranking helps. In fact, I think it might hurt sales in the future.

Aaron Shepard does an analysis on this in his excellent book, "Aiming at Amazon."

Amazon collects buyer information to promote books-- if Sue Smith bought 10 mystery novels last year, then Sue is going to get e-mails and alerts about mystery novels.

Cross promotion and tags are the key-- not inflating the sales rank, which says almost nothing about a book's real success.

My most successful book earns about 5K in royalties every month. The sales rank is all over the place-- ranging from 4,000 all the way down to 450,000.

But the same book has been increasing in sales steadily-- because Amazon is now promoting it with other, similar books.

It's the "better togther" phenomenon.

A few months ago, I even got an e-mail promoting my own book. It was sent to me because I purchase lots of tax and bookkeeping books on Amaon, and my new release was about promoting a tax practice.

I personally think that the best promotion is a heavy front-end promotion to people that really enjoy the genre and then Amazon will take over from there.

ami said...

I love the way this blog empowers writers.

Even if the flash mob thing doesn't work (and I hope it does!) - it's great that you're willing to try out a new tactic, and it's great that, as a writer, you have put yourself in charge of this innovative and kind of kooky effort.

More, more, more!

Anonymous said...

I think you mean "Tuesday, May 11 at 3 p.m. EDT", not EST, right? As far as I know, the entire eastern U.S. is currently on Daylight Savings Time...

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Scott, I'll definitely be buying. Hope it helps!

I agree with C. Pinheiro that the best thing is consistency over time. Once you get a certain number of reviews (I think it's 20) Amazon starts actively promoting your book to people. And tags really help.

There have been many variations on the Amazon Book Blitz. I think the real value is that for SOME books, it helps it get more visibility on the bestseller lists and if that happens, then you may be able to maintain your rank.

BUT a lot of sales rank is also "over time." And it seems that rank is in some way slanted not just toward "how many you sell today or this hour or this week" but over time. Given, that anybody can "game the system."

Like how Amazon has things in place to keep people from creating multiple accounts and reviewing their own book. (Though I don't think Amazon Book Blitzes are in any way dishonest like that.)

I will probably do some variation on the Amazon Book Blitz. I'm not sure whether I'll do 24 hours, 48 hours or 1 hour, but I don't think it can actually hurt sales.

I think a book blitz "may" be most valuable for a book that is already doing well, to help it break a barrier to do "great."

So given that indie authors don't have the milk-like expiration date, we might want to start thinking about scheduling book blitzes for strategic times which may or may not coincide with release date.

Vincent Zandri said...

My pub released my latest, Moonlight Falls in both Kindle and Trade, so, in line with Scott's idea, I'm looking to sell TEN MF Kindle's today via my FB page and also the Fan page...one of the ten buyers who chimes in by midnight tonight will get a free autographed copy of the Trade Paperback....so I'm thinking a giveaway to go with the request seems like a good idea...In any case, all this beats standing alone at a bookstore while no one buys your book :)))

Rex Kusler said...

40 minutes before the designated time, I'll be attending a meeting with my sandwiches. However, this looks like something I'd like to read so I plan to click it 40 minutes early.

CJ West said...

Not sure what to think here, Scott. C. Pinheiro may have a point that Amazon has had time to get wise to the rush to buy tactic.

No matter what, I think we should do what we can to help our fellow indie authors. I'm reading Drummer Boy now.


JA Konrath said...

Cross promotion and tags are the key-- not inflating the sales rank, which says almost nothing about a book's real success.

I agree that cross promotion, tags, 'customers who bought this', and many other tools Amazon uses to link and recommend products are effective.

But I believe sales rank is effective too. A high rank gets you on the bestseller lists. Then browsers and surfers keep you on the list, because they're looking for similar genre books to the ones they like and find you there.

I've watched many publishers release a book for free for a week, then charge normal price. The book usually continues to sell for days, if not weeks, afterward. Once something gets on a bestseller list, it often tends to stay there.

This is a good experiment to try. If Scott can get high up on a genre list, it will be interesting to see how long he stays there.

Jack H. H. King said...


What if 40 authors band together?

We wait for the 70% royalty.

Create a listmania with one Kindle book from each author.

Every author prices at 2.99.

Every author buys all the books on the list, same day, same time.

Every author tags and reviews all the books within an hour.

Every author gets a sales rank spike, 40 customer reviews (blurbs), and a strong Also Bought list.

We rise together, we fall together.

That would be an experiment.

- Jack

WayneThomasBatson said...

Hi, Joe! I did this for my hardcover release of Curse of the Spider King (2009). I called it an "Amazon Blitz" and operated from my blog. In one 24 hour period, Curse of the Spider King went from 77,617 to 635th. The ranking stayed in the low thousands for a week or so. Since then, the ranking ranges between 15K--70K. The only disappointment is that these numbers didn't really translate into an overwhelming number of books sold. Even so, I'll be blitzing for my next book Venom and Song.

The Daring Novelist said...

Well, I'm not a horror reader, so I probably won't buy it. (And I don't know that I'll have access to the computer at 3pm, so I just visited it and tagged. I'll visit again if I get the chance later in the day.

I like the idea of a free book launch to try to get this kind of thing going. I have noticed a spike in sales when some blog or other publishes a list of .99 cent books with my titles on it.

I do think, though, that if we were to do something this intense too regularly, they'd build an algorithm in to keep the rankings from being too manipulated. (Though I notice that people do seem to manage this regularly on Twitter.)

JA Konrath said...

I did my part and bought it. This is going to be fascinating.

Anna Murray said...

I just purchased it! Looks good.


Karen Carr said...

Ok, I'm game, $2.99 is a great way to support an author. I bought it and facebooked about it too. I'll even read it. (after I get through a newbie's guide to publishing)


Ellen Fisher said...

Bought it.

MMI said...

thanks a bunch, Joe, we've had 14 sales in half an hour, though the rank hasn't budged yet (I suspect it will take at least an hour to click in).

Even if a burst does nothing, it's fun and beats wishing people will buy the novel. I am constantly torn between plugging in to sell books and just sticking with the things that keep me happy, like writing, garden, chickens.

One thing I know for sure, without all the cool authors and readers int he world, this biz would not be nearly as much fun!

Under my daughter's account so I don't have to log out...)

Anonymous said...

Bought One.

Waiting to see the results.

Bill Williams
comic book writer

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Incidentally, Jack, CJ is doing something exactly like you're planning. I spent a year planning my release for The Red Church, knowing I only had a month or so before the books were moved out like bad cottage cheese. With this flash mob, I got the idea about six days ago. It would be interesting to see how someone with a real platform (like Joe, Scott Sigler, Seth Harwood, or Seth Godin) could do.

I do think the long-term approach is best, but I kind of feel like you have to do everything at the same time, all the time, because you never know what works, and you never know what opportunity might have been missed (like, you went into hibernation the week some producer was browsing for new stories). You just never know. All I know is, if you do nothing, you get nothing. If you don't care, nobody else cares. The difference back then was I killed myself, drove to 60 book signings, sold a ton of books, and gave 92 percent to a publisher...


Blake Crouch said...

Bought it....looking forward to the read!

Moses Siregar III said...

I bought it, and I'm looking forward to reading it. Good luck to you, Scott.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

by the way, Joe, those covers are excellent! Let's have a flash mob for the books...

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Morning: Ranked #12,440, sold three copies today to move to #6,972 at 3 pm

First hour: 23 sales, moved to #6,024 at shortly after 4 pm, moved to #648 at shortly after 5 pm (or about where Joe is all the time!).

There are seven sales in the second hour so I will report how that effects the number. Conclusion: It works, but for how long? And Amazon's reporting is an hour delayed, not real-time. I also don't know how the long-term sales figure into the rank. It's possible that the three weeks where I had the book up, tinkering before the launch with few sales, might have told Amazon not to pay attention. It's possible if you came out of the gate with a blitz, you'd shoot up faster.

Thanks, everyone! I am going to stick with plugging the rest of the day to see what happens. (And also report later on how it effects the sales of my other titles).


Ellen Fisher said...

Wow, look how low you got! That's great-- I hope it stays there!

Jack H. H. King said...


I saw you released your paperback with Create Space. Have your paper sales gone up with your Kindle sales?

- Jack

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Weird. With only seven sales in the second hour, it actually moved up to #557. So the hourly rankings must have some sort of residual or averaging factor. I think I've reached that bottoming out point of all good book-pimp efforts: I made my wife buy a copy!

Reached #1 in "Ghosts" and #2 in "Occult" Unfortunately, those aren't major-mover genres. Jack, I will check on the paper sales, but I sell more through my site than from Amazon (I can afford to sell them cheaper than Amazon does, plus I can sign them).

I suspect more than half of my sales have come though the generosity of Joe and you bloggers here. Thank you. Hope this data is useful.


Anna Murray said...

" I think I've reached that bottoming out point of all good book-pimp efforts: I made my wife buy a copy!"

Ha! Husband and the kids haven't bought copies of the books yet, and, quite frankly, my daughters don't want to read them because they have some sex scenes. There's something about reading those when your mom is the writer (but it's ok if somebody else writes it).

It's great to see your triple-digit numbers!


Anonymous said...

Just an FYI:

1. Amazon updates sales rank on all books every hour.

2. Sales rank goes up and down based on sales within a short time period.

3. If you use CreateSpace, you can track sales rank by watching the sales rank throughout the day, and running a report the next day, when most of the sakes are posted; but the sales of all the books on Amazon affect everyone's sales rank (once again, Sales Rank not a great indicator of sales)

4. I sold ten copies of a book yestrday, according to my sales reports. The sales rank varied throughout the day from 6,000 down to 39,000, with the lowest numbers posting late at night. Usually I don't pay much attention to sales rank, but I did because of this blog post.

I reiterate that I don't think manipulating sales rank helps sales very much. But you could ask everyone who bought the book to leave a review-- reviews that are marked "Amazon Verified Purchase" help sales tremendously if they are positive and those reviews are cross-posted to the paper edition if you tell Amazon to link the e-book and p-book. Just a suggestion.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Christy, I agree, nothing beats having passionate, steady fans who rave about your books to friends. Besides marketing money, that is the only way to have a major success. I have been following rankings for years, and had paperbacks that did really well for fairly extended periods (months in the 2-3k range).

Amazon rankings are not going to make or break you unless you hit the Top 100 and stay there a bit. The point here was not to "manipulate" but to yield real data about how numbers can affect ranks. For example, I had no idea you could sell fewer titles and still rise in rank (though I know it's a moving target, because bestsellers fall and new bestsellers come in).

Constant blitzing would be a terrible way to try to make money. I used up all my social media capital for a while! Yet it was way more fun than getting in the car and driving two hours to a bookstore, as I did in the old days, buying my own gas.

Jack: I did sell 3 paper copies of Drummer Boy, making almost as much as I did on the e-books.

Anna: My motto is: "Write the book you don't want your parents to read but hope your kids will read someday!"

Also, Zoe, wanted to add, I think by putting the book out a few weeks ago, tinkering, etc., and not promoting it, it created some "dead time" that probably damaged its rank vitality by diluting the average. So I'd guess that a strong push right out of the gate is the best way to try the flash mob, then settle back into normal promotion mode. The book had hardly any reviews, only a few blog entries, and nothing but my relatively small social media pool. As I said earlier, someone with a real platform could really make a ripple.

Thanks again, Joe, for all your generosity. If you did a flash mob, I think the results would be newsworthy. Luckily, this didn't go viral or I would have missed dinner...


Ellen Fisher said...

Down to #524 now! Awesome!

Author Scott Nicholson said...

I didn't do a good job implementing one leg of the strategy--I asked people to go click on the book even if they didn't buy it. The idea was to stimulate "People who viewed this item also viewed..." appearances.

That doesn't work unless people are purchasing multiple books or browsing and shopping anyway. I don't think Amazon cares if people click on an unconnected page unless it is linked to other products.

If I ever did this again (and I'd have to wait probably until autumn), I'd do it right when the book was out, offer a real incentive to drive traffic (I toyed with the idea of actually reimbursing people who bought the book that hour), build it up for weeks with some serious prizes, and then plan after-mobs or efforts to keep a wave going.

I do think there will be a residual wave, because I noticed forum traffic drops to a halt around rush hour/dinnertime, and I am doing all the usual podcasts/blog posts/reviews as I go. So I think I will have to look at the entire day, week, and month to make solid conclusions.


Lynda Hilburn said...

Zoe and Joe: What's an Amazon Book Blitz? Why are tags helpful? (I learn so much from this blog!). I'd sure appreciate if someone who knows about promo could take a look at my Amazon book page(s) and see if there's something else I should be doing (in addition to putting more books up) to keep the sales going! (I've been doing really well since mid-March). Thanks in advance!
Lynda Hilburn

Lee Goldberg said...

GREAT covers. They just get better and better.

Radu Prisacaru said...

Keep up the good work! I invite you to see my post, I hope you will find interesting too.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

Morning update: With only six additional sales overnight, Drummer Boy is still ranked at 1,108, which means a blitz effect lingers for a bit. I am blogging more thoroughly about it, along with conclusions, at

I now think a three-hour campaign would work better.


Zoe Winters said...


An Amazon Book Blitz is when you organize a promo campaign (sometimes with incentives, sometimes cause you're just really confident people love you that much, lol) to get a bunch of people to purchase your book all at the same time on Amazon. Most book blitz's are a 24 hour period so far. But Scott did an hour "flash mob" style.

The point is to raise your sales rank and get on bestseller lists. Ideally to get on the "movers and shakers" list because if you can get on that list and stay on it for a little while, you get a lot of free exposure from those who check that list to see what's hot.

Tags are important because they help you get found more frequently. The more times your book gets tagged the easier it gets found in searches.

Also if you click on the tag itself, you'll see the most popular books with that tag (often hundreds of times). That's a lot of exposure but really hard to get.

I'm not 100% sure, but I'd even bet that tags and frequency of them figures into Amazon's algorithms for recommending people. I know review count does. Once you reach a certain review count... most say around 20, Amazon starts actively recommending your book to people.

Reviews are also important because good detailed reviews from readers who love your book help your sales page's SEO. (Think of Amazon like the Google for books. Detailed strong reviews contain lots of keywords for your book's subject/genre.)

An excerpt from your book can help SEO as well. It can also help the number of people who view your page who purchase the book. (My conversion rate leaped when I included an excerpt on the sales page of Kept.)

One caveat about the book blitz that C. Pinheiro describes in more detail on her blog, is that Amazon uses other people's buying habits to know who to recommend your book to. So if a bunch of random people who don't really read your type of book, buys it, it could throw off Amazon's recommendation algorithms.

Linda Acaster said...

Zoe, that was a fantastic addition to this post. Thanks very much for taking the time.

As someone just dipping my toe into this arena with my rights-reverted backlist, Joe's blog continues to be a revelation (thanks, Joe!) and watching Scott do his stuff really helps get my brain in gear. I hope it continues to go well for you, Scott. I shall be watching - cripes, sounding like a stalker now.

Lynda Hilburn said...

Thanks, Zoe!

Rabid Fox said...

A flash mob, eh? What an odd way to go about marketing a book. Still, if it helps create an awareness for the author and the title--in the same way the flash mobs in reality may bring awareness to a social cause--why not give it a whirl.

Still, I think back to that NPR story about Improv Everywhere and their flash mob that traumatized one target/victim.

Unknown said...

FYI, Red Church is one of the best books I've ever read and I once read the Bible. Well, parts of the Bible.

Cara Wallace said...

According to this from Publisher's Weekly, Amazon is going to drop free downloads from its bestseller list and move them into a separate category. So the strategy of offering a book free for the first week may not have as much impact in the future.

Zoe Winters said...

Linda, Thanks!

Lynda, YW

Bren, lol that's classic.

Cara, I know, isn't it awesome?

I feel weird replying to four people on a blog that isn't mine. Um, sorry. But on the up side I did it all in one comment and less than 200 words.

Moses Siregar III said...

I read a couple chapters of 'Drummer Boy' tonight on my BRAND NEW KINDLE (WOOT!), and I think it's a very well-written work so far. I'm really looking forward to finishing it.

Btw, what precisely is "cross promotion" via Amazon?

kanishk said...

You know I'm reading Drummer Boy now.
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