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Matthew Mather started his career at the McGill Centre for Intelligent Machines. He founded one of the first tactile feedback companies — Haptic Technologies Inc, which he eventually sold for $10 million — and won a $2 million “best new video game” prize in 2007, and has worked on nanotech, genomics, and cybersecurity.
He’s also the author of a chart-topping Amazon book that sold 40,000 copies in its first eight weeks of publication — and shot to the top spot in Amazon’s science fiction charts — by following a very strategic publishing and publicity model, which he shared with me when we chatted a few weeks ago.
This is a hot topic right now. Well-known entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki just published APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur), which gives step-by-step instructions on how to self-publish. And an astonishing 27 of the top 100 books on Kindle are self-published.
Here’s how Mather did it.
“I have a background as an entrepreneur and as I was writing the Kindle came out and I wanted to try it,” Mather said. “Traditional publishers have the connections into the bookshops, and pay for printing … but now creators can access the market directly.”
Mather had started writing his novel in 2010, and by 2012 had 150,000 words and 600 pages of The Atopia Chronicles. But he didn’t just throw the novel into the massive Amazon ocean of titles and hope for the best. Using his background in startups and his savvy as an entrepreneur, he created an 11-step program to market and launch the book.
“If you go the self-publishing route, it’s definitely the year to get started,” he told me. “But you need to start with good reviews and get early sales … if you start to become popular, you get into the recommendation system, and the system feeds itself.”
So Mather created the Shakespeare system, an 11-step process to get to number one. Briefly, it outlines the key tips to getting attention, getting reviews, and getting sales:
Attention spans are short and readers don’t necessarily trust a new author. Consider breaking your novel into smaller, bit-sized chunks
The first part of your story needs to be punchy and leave the reader wanting more.
- Amazon only
Focus only on Amazon first, because it’s the biggest and sells the most. By focusing, you can promote better, and you can move up rankings quicker. After some success you can consider other platforms.
- Key networks
Promote the book in your personal networks. Ask people to re-post your free book offers. Email people. Share it on LinkedIn. Email top-selling authors, and ask them to review your book or even share it with their audiences.
You must create a character that people can connect with
- Select Program on Amazon
Choose the Amazon Select Program because you can offer your book for free for 5 days in every three months. Then promote it on the free books websites.
- Perceived value
Create perceived value by offering a deal … for instance by pricing six serialized parts at $0.99 each, and the entire book at $2.99
You will get killed in reviews if your book is not well edited. Go on Craigslist, find some unemployed English major, and pay a few bucks to get it edited. Use a real editor if you have the cash, but it’ll be expensive.
- All free posting sites
Get feedback on your book from 20 or so people by paying the $10-20 for reading your book. Bonus: they’ll probably become your biggest promoters and will be happy to write reviews for you later. And use the free press release sites when you release your book.
It’s critical to get reviews as these have a direct impact on Amazon ranking and recommendations. Don’t do fake reviews — you’ll get caught. Do ask friends and relatives and contacts to review the book.
Engage with readers via a video blog, or any blog (here’s Mather’s). Show progress on future books. Get them engaged somehow.
By using this system — and by working a 14-hour day when his book was released — Mather ensured that his book launch didn’t disappear into the vast Amazon machine without a ripple. (If you’re wondering why it’s called the Shakespeare system, check the first letters of each step.)
“You need to prepare beforehand and do it all at once, at launch day,” he told me. “I started at three AM, sent out three to four press releases, ran through the whole marketing program in 14 hours, and by the next day I was number one in science fiction.”
One thing that is critical, Mather says, is pricing.
“I talked to a lot of science fiction readers, and it’s sort of like the music industry,” he told me. “A book from a big publisher is $10-15 … so people will pirate them. But if you price it at $2-3, they won’t. And, since you’re getting 70% of the purchase price from Amazon versus maybe 20% from a regular publishing deal … you’re better off in the end.”
The results are pretty obvious: a book that went to first in Amazon’s science fiction list in a day is still on three different top-ten lists and is currently ranked 1,813 on the overall Amazon’s best-sellers list. Not bad for a first-time author.
Of course, it’s not all about the system. One thing that Mather did add when we chatted: it helps if the book is good.
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