T. Ellery Hodges published his first novel The Never Hero (science fantasy) in September 2014. It’s currently in the top 100 of four different subgenres and is hovering around #600 in overall ranking in the Kindle Store. This week, I talk to Todd about how The Never Hero came about and what strategies he’s used to make it “stick” at the top of the cha
Show notes at: rspcast.com/Todd.
The Never Hero grew out of an unusual question that T. Ellery Hodges asked himself eight years ago: What is wrong with the men of my generation?
It took Hodges three different attempts to write the novel inspired by that question. Around June of 2013, frustrated by his day job, he asked a friend (and former member of the U.S. Army) if he should join the Army. His friend answered, “No. Punch yourself in the balls and come to lunch with me. We gotta talk about this.”
Then his friend told him about Amazon’s KDP program and self-publishing. Hodges went home and started writing. The third time was the charm, and by September of 2014, he was a published author.
Since then, The Never Hero has enjoyed impressive sales — roughly 120 to 130 books a day — and Hodges managed to do it without a BookBub ad.
The Anatomy of an Almost Perfect Amazon Book Promotion
Hodges attributes the success of his book to a combination of five different factors:
- He hired a virtual assistant (VA) to manage outreach to bloggers and reviewers, saving himself time and getting better results
- He pared down the book description on his Amazon page to as short as he could make it and included positive reviews.
- He hired a professional graphic designer to design a compelling book cover to replace the original one he had made himself.
- He hired a narrator to produce the audio version and released it in short order.
- After he failed to get on with BookBub, Hodges arranged for a series of alternate promos spread out strategically in an effort to build up a long-term incline as opposed to a burst of sales. (See: “The Perfect Amazon Book Promotion” by Wayne Stinnett)
While Hodges admits it’s difficult to determine the effectiveness of single tactic, he believes it’s the collective power of these five strategies that has helped his book “stick” to the top of the sales rankings.
Lessons Learned Along the Way
- Hodges says he sent his first editor what was essentially a first draft. While he felt he got a lot out of that experience, the manuscript wasn’t ready for an editor. Now he revises at least three drafts before he even considers sending it to an editor or beta reader.
- He learned to commit 100%. That’s when he realized how much he is capable of…and how much most people tend to hold back for fear of failure.
- He gave up on fancy jargon and vocabulary in favor for clear and concise writing. Sometimes, the big fancy words can pull a reader right out of a story. Better to be clear in your writing rather than posturing.
- Honesty in the characters matter. Hodges reports that more than one reader has accused his protagonist Jonathan Tibbs of being “too sensitive.” There seems to be a general assumption made by such readers is that if the protagonist has super powers, then the win will be easy for him. Not so. While Tibbs does acquire super powers, he’s up against a force much more powerful than the average mugger. Any human would be shaking in their boots, and that’s how Hodges writes it.
The Next Big Thing
Currently, Hodges is hard at work on Book 2 in the series, The Never Paradox, with plans to publish it by the end of the year.
Logan Durst on whether or not Hodges should join the Army: “No. Punch yourself in the balls and come to lunch with me. We gotta talk about this.”
“Just try to remember that the magic is in the revisions.” – T. Ellery Hodges
“No one is going to see your book if the cover sucks. No one is going to get past the bad cover. It’s like the gate.” – Simon Whistler
“There just seems to be a really solid connection between fantasy and science fiction and the type of people that, you know, listen to audio books.” – T. Ellery Hodges
“I think if I was going to go out and fight a bear or something, I’d just be like, ‘I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die!'” – Simon Whistler
Use T. Ellery Hodges’ strategies to improve your own sales:
- Hire a VA to help with marketing outreach. Hodges says he regularly spent at least 45 minutes for each book blogger contact, between research, reading, and submission email. Now, his VA handles the outreach, offering bloggers and reviewers the opportunity to read his book for an honest review, which is perceived as much more professional coming from a third-party and a lot less needy not coming from the author.
- Review your Amazon book descriptions for efficiency, brevity, and a compelling hook. Short and to the point is more effective and appealing to readers.
- Review your book cover. If you’re not moving a lot of books, ask yourself, could it be the cover? Be honest. If you made it using a free app on your iPhone, chances are it’s not the best cover it could be. Hire a professional designer and let them do what they do best. If you have a limited budget, consider using a professionally-made premade cover.
- Go audio! More and more authors are reporting good success with audiobooks. It doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg to get your book narrated and produced. You can find a narrator through ACX who would be willing to take a split versus accepting upfront payment. For more information regarding audiobooks, please check out Simon’s excellent book Audiobooks for Indies: The One-Stop Guide for Authors Looking to Make More Money Selling Audiobooks.
- Schedule promos every few days after launch in order to create a long-term incline and “stickiness” in the rankings. A great resource for free and paid promos can be found here.
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What’s your favorite marketing strategy for ebooks? What strategy do you feel is the most effective?