When an Amazon bestseller campaign goes wrong

When you’re running an Amazon bestseller campaign (or any bestseller campaign, for that matter), timing is everything. So what happens when things don’t go to plan?

Advertising dollars are wasted, marketing activity gets put on hold, and if you’ve been building up anticipation in advance, you can lose a lot of the buzz you generated. Ultimately, you might not hit your goal of becoming a bestseller.

At Grammar Factory, we ran our first bestseller campaign last June when my book, Book Blueprint, was released by Morgan James publishing. We scheduled the sale, booked in our advertising, shared it on social media and via our newsletter, and the book hit the bestseller lists for its categories within a day.

I then thought, ‘Why not offer this as a service?’

So we did – we’ve run bestseller campaigns for a number of our publishing clients now, with books across a range of subjects. Every time we follow the same formula – schedule a price drop, ask the client to solicit reviews and schedule advertising activity throughout the week that the book is on sale.

I have to admit that I’d been getting a little cocky. Why wouldn’t I be, when it always worked?

Until it didn’t.

Here’s the story of my last 48 hours – or the bestseller campaign that went wrong.

Background: How bestseller campaigns work

Before we get into the shenanigans, it’s important to understand how bestseller lists and rankings actually work. A bestseller list is a list of books that have sold the most copies in a certain period. Lists like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller lists are updated on a weekly basis (some also require an editorial review), while the Amazon bestseller lists are updated hourly.

If your book sells the most copies in your category in an hour, you’ll hit the lists.

How do you hit the lists?

To get a book onto the Amazon bestseller list, you need to look at two things:

  1. Driving traffic to your book’s sales page
  2. Optimising conversions so more people buy when they get there

Driving traffic could simply be sharing your book on social media, sending out a newsletter, and emailing everyone you know asking them to buy it, or you might invest in an advertising campaign, which is something we coordinate for clients who sign up for our Publishing + Marketing package.

Optimising conversions involves dropping your book’s price for a limited amount of time (remember, timing is everything – you want to create urgency), and soliciting positive reviews (I’m assuming your book’s cover and the copy on the page are all up to date).

Simple, right? What could go wrong?

The story of the Amazon bestseller campaign that nearly didn’t happen

Two of our authors (Tanya Williams, the author of A Childfree Happily Ever After and Wayne Pales, the author of The Digital Utility) were planning bestseller campaigns for this week. Tanya was having us run the campaign, while Wayne asked us to schedule a discount on his book but planned to manage his own marketing.

Both of them went off and solicited reviews while I scheduled a price drop to 0.99 from March 4th. For Tanya’s book, I also scheduled advertising from the 5th to the 9th of March – advertising that would get her discounted eBook in front of hundreds of thousands of potential readers, letting them know that it was on sale for a limited amount of time.

Everything was going swimmingly until the 4th arrived, which is when I hopped on to Amazon to see if the price change had gone through.

Nope – both books were listed at about $9 in Australia, and $7 in the US.

I wasn’t too worried, though – while it was the 4th in Australia, it was still the 3rd in the US. We’d also checked in last week with Ingram Spark, our distributor, who’d confirmed that the change would go through at midnight on the 4th EST, so we didn’t have any activity planned until the next day. There was still time for the price to update.

Then the 5th arrived, and neither of the books’ prices had changed.

Operation price change

It was time to do something about the situation, as both the authors and I had planned marketing activity starting that day.

Step 1: Check our backend

The first step was troubleshooting – where was the problem? Was it with our distributor, Ingram Spark, or was something wrong at Amazon’s end?

I logged into our dashboard and saw that while Wayne’s book was showing up as being priced at 0.99 (which meant it was an Amazon issue), Tanya’s book hadn’t changed. When I clicked into her book’s details, it still had the price change scheduled for the 4th, but said it wasn’t yet in effect.

Hmm – how strange.

Step 2: Get the price updated at our end

I called Ingram Spark Australia and explained the situation – we’d scheduled the price change weeks ago, and it didn’t appear to have gone through.

The woman I was speaking to looked at her dashboard and said, “It looks like management in the US rejected the price change.”

At this I sputtered and asked, “What?”

She explained that all price changes needed to be approved by the US office, and that sometimes when there was a significant difference between an old price and a new one, they would reject the change.

I was furious. There had been no communication about this and, if I had just assumed the change was still being processed, we could have been waiting for days with no news. I took a deep breath and asked whether she could get it cleared.

“Unfortunately I can’t – it has to go to the US office. I can submit a request, but I won’t hear back from them until tomorrow.”

We ended the call and I decided to take matters into my own hands. We were one day into a campaign with limited time to make our mark – I was losing money on the advertising that had already started, while Tanya was having to rethink her entire campaign.

Step 2, attempt 2: Get the price updated at our end

I looked up the contact details for Ingram Spark US and, upon discovering that they work on a Sunday (thank you!), I gave their office a call.

The first person I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about – she said she couldn’t see any notes about the pricing change being declined. She also said the price appeared to be updated, and didn’t seem to understand that I was seeing a ‘price not yet in effect’ alert at my end.

Eventually she transferred me to her supervisor who said the same thing – she knew nothing about it being declined and said it all looked like it was in order. But she could run a refresh and put in an IT request and see if that updated things at my end.

It looked like I’d done everything I could regarding the pricing change in my dashboard, so I asked whether there was anything we could do to get the change to show up on Amazon more quickly (as for past campaigns it had always been live first thing on Monday morning, and the morning was getting away from me).

She said they’d refreshed their retailer feeds, but that was all she could do for the moment. When I asked if she had a number for Amazon, she said, “I guess I could Google it…”, after which I said I could do my own Google-ing and set off to do just that. No direct number for me.

Step 3: Get the price updated with Amazon

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to contact Amazon as a publisher, but it’s impossible. I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it.

Here’s what I tried:

  1. Requesting a call back from the Australian retail line. (The result: She had no details for anyone in the publishing department, so couldn’t transfer me.)
  2. Calling the US office. (The result: The person I spoke to couldn’t help.)
  3. Going to the Kindle Direct Publishing help pages and submitting a request. (The result: An email about 18 hours later explaining that because I hadn’t published directly through KDP, but had instead used a distributor, there was nothing they could do to help.)
  4. Signing up to Kindle Direct Publishing so I could post in the forums about the issue. (The result: Contact Amazon in the aforementioned form.)
  5. Tweeting them. (The result: No response.)
  6. Messaging them on Facebook. (The result: No response.)
  7. Calling the US office again.

The second time I called the US office, I had more luck (or so I thought). The woman I spoke to was fantastic – she understood the problem and transferred me to the Kindle department, which she thought could help. Unfortunately, they couldn’t.

Once I spoke to the Kindle rep, he said that because I hadn’t uploaded the book to Amazon myself, Author Central wouldn’t be able to process the change for me. They’d need the distributor (Ingram Spark) or the authors (Tanya and Wayne) to contact them directly.

It was now outside business hours, so I sent Tanya and Wayne each an email listing what they would need to tell Amazon to get the price changed. 20 minutes later, Tanya emailed back to say that they hadn’t known who she was and hadn’t done anything.

So much for that plan.

Step 4: Sleep

It was getting late and there was nothing I could do after emailing both the Australian and US offices of Ingram Spark.

Step 5: Get Ingram Spark to call Amazon

First thing the next morning, I called the US Ingram Spark office again (following my experience yesterday, I’d given up on the Australian office).

After waiting on hold for over 10 minutes, I got through to a gentleman and explained my situation. My request was simple: since the online system doesn’t seem to be working, can you give them a phone call?

The response? No.

No ‘Let’s look for another solution’, no ‘let me speak to my supervisor’, no ‘Sure, I’ll try it and see how it goes.’ Just no.

Why?

Because their dispute resolution process says they can’t contact Amazon unless there is a significant error in how a book is listed, or if a price change is significantly overdue. How long was ‘significantly overdue’? Three weeks.

Wait, three weeks?!

Both of my authors were running a one week campaign – in three weeks’ time the pricing would have already gone back to normal!

I explained that we were running campaigns and that three weeks was too late. I explained that I’d already tried calling myself and that they’d said someone from Ingram Spark would need to call them. I explained that I would make the call myself if I could – that I would solve the problem myself if I could – but that I’d already done everything I could.

What happened next? Did the block of ice around his heart start to thaw and crack?

Nope – the answer was still no.

So I asked, was there anything else we could do?

No.

A tangent to this phone call was that he also told me that price changes only got pushed to retailers on the first of each month, which meant I’d missed the cut off to have the change processed this month. This piece of information seemed nonsensical, given our past experience – we’d never based our sales dates on the first of the month. The system also allows you to schedule a price change on any Sunday you like. But, if he was right… we’d be waiting until April for the change to go through.

Step 6: Look for other options

By this stage I was pulling my hair out. Timing is everything, and we were running out of time.

So I started looking at alternatives. Was there any other way we could run these campaigns?

Here’s what I came up with:

Option 1: Extend discount with Ingram Spark

As the price change hadn’t gone live yet, what if I scheduled it for an extra week? That way, if it took another few days to go up (fingers crossed we wouldn’t have to wait until April!), we would still have a week or so to promote the sale.

Pros: 

– We could market the existing listings (which both had positive reviews)

– I could book in some last-minute advertising once the change finally went through

Cons:

– I still had no idea when the change would happen, which makes planning difficult

– Because we don’t know when it will happen, I couldn’t book in the same level of advertising I had going for this week, which would mean less traffic

Option 2: Create a brand new listing directly with Amazon

I could publish the eBooks again via Kindle Direct Publishing. Then I could set the price to 0.99 from the get go, and we could start promoting the new links.

Pros:

– It might have been faster than option 1 (assuming the book didn’t get stuck in the review stage)

– If it went up today, I could email the advertisers I had booked up for the next couple of days with the new book link, so we could still benefit from the existing advertising

Cons:

– The eBook would be on Amazon twice

– The new listing wouldn’t have the existing reviews

– If the authors had newsletters, social posts, social ads and other activity ready to go, the link would need to be updated to the new one

I had sent the options through and was waiting to hear back, when…

Step 7: Celebrate when the whole mess resolved itself!

While I was waiting to hear back from the authors, I popped into my assistant’s email account (this is where the Ingram Spark US emails had been going). The supervisor I’d spoken to yesterday had replied to my email about calling Amazon, saying they’d updated the pricing in my dashboard.

With a sigh I emailed back, explaining that I knew things had been updated at my end, but the pricing on Amazon hadn’t been. Was she able to give them a call or contact them?

Within half an hour she replied saying Amazon had been sent the update.

My breath caught in my throat. My fingers shook over my keyboard as I opened up each of the books in a new tab. Could this be it? Had the problem been resolved?

A Childfree Happily Ever After and The Digital Utility opened, and their prices had both dropped!

A day and a half later than expected, but we could finally run our Amazon bestseller campaigns!

What did I learn?

Don’t rely on anybody!

Just kidding.

Grammar Factory works because we rely on people – my editors, my designers, my printer and our distributor. If we didn’t have such a strong team, we wouldn’t be able to produce the books we do. And sometimes things go wrong – systems glitch – despite our best intentions. It also is the first time this has happened, so I’m inclined to consider it the exception, rather than the rule.

However, there are benefits to having a margin of safety – some wiggle room, just in case you need it. In our case, scheduling a price change for a Sunday when the campaign is going live on a Monday had always been enough time… until it wasn’t. So we’ll be scheduling those changes earlier in future, and potentially looking for a different distributor (or publishing to Amazon directly) when we know we’ll be running a bestseller campaign.

Fortunately the prices are now updated and we’re running the campaign as planned – I’ll add the results to this post once we’ve reached the end of the campaign.

So what were the books?

So which books are currently running their campaigns?

3D Happily Ever After

A Childfree Happily Ever After

The first is A Childfree Happily Ever After by Tanya Williams. In A Childfree Happily Ever After, Tanya dives deep into the reasons why women choose to have or not to have, children, including the social, cultural and biological factor that influence our decisions. If you are childfree or unsure if you want to have children, this book will help you to respond to the judgement, find your voice and make and make a decision that’s right for you.

Buy on sale at:

The Digital Utility

3D Cover (1)The Digital Utility by Wayne Pales. As an executive of an electric utility, have you wondered how you will navigate increasing regulatory uncertainty, appeal to disheartened consumers, and balance short-term returns with long-term sustainability?

You’re not alone. Utility companies the world over are grappling with the unprecedented rate of change occurring within the industry, and are becoming increasingly concerned about being left behind.

The Digital Utility provides a simple, yet powerful, six-step framework that will set you up for future success. You’ll learn how to leverage energy data to provide services customers want, gain support from relevant stakeholders, and drive business growth.

Buy on sale at:

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