My name is Russell Newquist. I am a software engineer, a martial artist, an author, an editor, a businessman and a blogger. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and a Master of Science degree in Computer Science, but I'm technically a high school dropout. I also think that everything in this paragraph is pretty close to meaningless. I work for a really great small company in Huntsville, Alabama building really cool software. I'm the owner and head instructor of Madison Martial Arts Academy, which I opened in 2013 less to make money and more because I just really enjoy a good martial arts workout with friends. I'm the editor in chief of Silver Empire and also one of the published authors there. And, of course, there is this blog - and all of its predecessors. There's no particular reason you should trust anything I say any more than any other source. So read it, read other stuff, and think for your damn self - if our society hasn't yet over-educated you to the point that you've forgotten how.
There are no men like me. There is only me.
When I launched “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” as a standalone eBook on Wednesday, I didn’t expect it to go all the way to #1 in its category. But I did plan out the launch ahead of time, applying all the lessons I’ve learned from previous book launches. I did expect a strong launch this time, and it didn’t disappoint!
Since many fellow authors follow this blog, today I will peel back the veil a bit. I’d like to show my friends exactly how I did it. A fellow business owner and I once mused that he and I could do the exact same marketing and it might work for one of us and not the other. Marketing is like that. Even so, hopefully you can put at least some of these tips to use.
The first thing to realize is that this successful book launch didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s been quite a long time in the making. I’ve spent the last year and a half or so helping other authors launch their own books. I’ve left reviews on quite a few books now. I made sure to put those reviews here on this blog, on Amazon, and on GoodReads. I have used social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, to help boost the signal of marketing attempts for several other authors. The upshot is, when it came time to ask for a favor in return, they were ready to do it.
More on that in a minute.
The second most important thing I did was pick the proper categories on Amazon. Some categories are really tough. Others are easy. “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” is a short story, so Amazon helped me automatically her by lumping it into the “Short Reads” parent category. Pro tip: this is one of the easiest categories to reach #1 in. People don’t buy as many short stories as they do novels, so you simply don’t have to move as many units to make it to number one. Take advantage of this. It’s not cheating – it’s just knowing the game. I also used Amazon’s recommended keyword selections to ensure proper subcategory placement. That allowed me to get the story placed in a very specific subcategory, which again made it easier to rise to the top.
Category selection is absolutely critical – don’t neglect it in your book launch.
The third major thing I did was enroll it in KDP Select and set it to have a few days free, beginning the day after launch.
Why the day after? Because you can’t schedule free days until the book is actually live. Also, I picked the launch date and the free days carefully. Today is Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael and the other Archangels. Since my hero, Peter Bishop, wields the flaming sword of St. Michael the Archangel himself, this seemed like a great day to go free. But I wanted some time for buildup, so I didn’t want just one free day. I went for three – the day before, Michaelmas itself, and the day after.
Due to the way Amazon’s sales ranking works, your best bet for rising to the top of a category is to move a lot of books very close to launch day. Therefore, I scheduled the book launch to coincide with this for maximum effect. The algorithm takes sales history into account – so if you’ve got a long history of no sales and then a sudden burst, your sales rank gain is limited. But if you have no prior sales history, then the algorithm works only with the sudden burst. Boom, you get a great ranking.
Get your friends to help – but make it easy for them!
Remember earlier when I said that I had a lot of author friends who were happy to help? I made use of them – and many of my other friends, too. I also made it super easy for them to help. All I asked for was two very small favors. First – and easiest – I asked them to drop by Amazon yesterday morning and pick up a copy of the book. Remember, though, that I’d already made it free. So I’d asked my friends to please pick up a FREE COPY of my book. Hard, right? I got a huge response from all of them, and it really helped.
Don’t think for a minute, though, that that accounts for all of the units moved. It doesn’t. It’s not even a quarter of yesterday’s units – and none of today’s. They helped boost it up the ranks and get seen. My other marketing work, took over from there. But I digress.
The second favor I asked for was reviews – and I made this one easy, too. I asked those who had already read the story to please take a moment to leave an Amazon review of it. This particular story had already been published before in the anthology Make Death Proud to Take Us, and many of my friends had read it. Now, getting reviews from people – even friends – is like pulling teeth. (Yes, this might be a not-so-subtle hint to my friends who have not yet left reviews on any of my works!) I knew I wouldn’t get many – but I did get a small handful. Thank you so much to those who did leave reviews – I love you for it!
Announce it everywhere!
I blasted the announcement all over social media. My Twitter feed, in particular, had a lot more “marketing tweets” in it than I usually like to go for. But I wanted the word out, and it worked.
But the catch here is that I’ve spent all summer carefully building my Twitter audience. I definitely could have done better with an even wider reach, but I have enough of a following now to make an impact – especially when I’m giving something away for free! Also, I’ve spent the summer building relationships on Twitter. So I had several friends retweeting me throughout the day. Some of those friends have much bigger audiences than I do. To each and every one of you who gave me a signal boost yesterday, thank you!
Last but not least, I made use of the Amazon Giveaway in a way I never had before. This time, I made a giveaway for Make Death Proud to Take Us, which also included the short story “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” But in the message for those who didn’t win, I left a note and a link to the free version of the story. I set the giveaway to make people follow me on Twitter… but my goal wasn’t Twitter followers at all. I wanted people to pick up the free story.
How well did that work? I’d estimate that about 1 in 15 to 1 in 20 giveaway entrants went on to pick up the free story. Frankly, a lot of giveaway entrants aren’t interested in your books at all. They just enter every giveaway they see. So the percentage wasn’t huge, but it was enough to help move a few more copies.
I’ll give a more detailed report on the aftermath after there’s been some. The best I can say today is that copies are still moving, albeit at a far lower rate than yesterday. I didn’t hold the number one slot for very long – the current occupant is tenacious. But I’ve sat at number 2 for almost 24 hours now (barring the brief stint at #1). The story has also held on well at #6 in its secondary category, and is still within the top 100 in at least two other categories. That’s going to continue to bring it a lot of visibility it wouldn’t otherwise have had.
If you don’t have a copy yet, stop by Amazon and pick one up. If you did pick it up, read it. I think it’s the best work I’ve yet published. And if you’ve read it, please do leave it an honest review on Amazon. Amazon reviews are the lifeblood of independent authors – help a friend out! Even something as simple as, “I liked it – 5 stars!” is a major boost.
If you liked it, you can find the second Peter Bishop story in the anthology Between the Wall and the Fire. That one gets much deeper into the actual world of Peter Bishop. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for my upcoming novel, Post Traumatic Stress. It’s not technically part of the Tales of Peter Bishop series, but he does guest star in it… and it also happens to contain his origin story. I’m also nearly finished with the next Peter Bishop short story, “Dinner Party.” Imagine Peter – a good Catholic boy – meeting his fiance’s very Baptist parents. Keep in mind that until now, Faith has been a very bad Baptist girl. Hilarity ensues. Plus, there’s a werewolf.
My newest release, a short story titled “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” is now available on Amazon. This is the first of the Tales of Peter Bishop. If you’ve read my anthology Make Death Proud to Take Us, then you’ve already read this story. If you haven’t, it’s now available as a standalone. The story has done very well on Amazon today, climbing (so far) all the way to #2 in “Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 30 minutes (12-21 pages) > Science Fiction & Fantasy” and #5 in “Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 30 minutes (12-21 pages) > Literature & Fiction.”
The kicker? In the much, much tougher category of “Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Paranormal & Urban” earlier today it sat at #58. Number 55? Yeah, that was the International Lord of Hate himself, Mr. Larry Correia with Monster Hunter International. Not bad. Not bad at all!
I’d like to give a special thank you and shout out to all the people who have helped boost the signal today and get me to that point: L. Jagi Lamplighter, Susan McPhail, Declan Finn, Dean Esmay, Daddy Warpig, Christopher Lansdown, and especially Brian Niemeier.
Best of all, the story is available free through Friday! As the tale tells of the man who wields the flaming sword of the archangel St. Michael, it is only fitting that it should be available free over Michaelmas. Get your free copy today. And after you’ve read it and loved it, leave me an awesome review!
Update: “Who’s Afraid of the Dark?” is now Number 1 in “Kindle Store > Kindle Short Reads > 30 minutes (12-21 pages) > Science Fiction & Fantasy.” Thank you again to everyone named above, and to all of you! Please do remember to drop by and leave a review when you get a moment!
Just in case you’re not sold already, I’ll leave you with a sample.
Even though he couldn’t see them he could hear their skittering. Despite his impassioned pleas and his sister’s crying, his parents had turned out the lights. Again.
“Don’t be afraid of the dark, Johnny,” Bruce had told him.
“Be brave like Batman,” his mother told him. Batman wasn’t afraid of the dark.
Johnny wasn’t afraid of the dark, either. Only babies were afraid of the dark. Johnny was five now, and a big boy. Little Ginny wasn’t afraid of the dark, either. Even if she had been, she had an excuse. Still a mere two years old, his little sister was a baby. But Ginny was as brave as Johnny, and Johnny wasn’t afraid of the dark.
He was afraid of the things that came out in the dark.
They didn’t come out straight away. They were too smart for that. They waited until later, after Johnny and Ginny had gone to sleep – until after their mother and Bruce had gone to bed, even. Only once the grownups were sound asleep did they come out.
It started with the skittering. They came from the closet. At least, that was Johnny’s best guess based on the sound. Then they crawled across the walls and the ceilings to the beds. Ginny always slept through it. But not Johnny. He’d always been a lighter sleeper than his sister, and he’d woken at once every time.
The first night it hadn’t even scared him. He’d just listened with fascination, wondering what kind of critter it would be. Maybe it was mice, or rats, or squirrels. Maybe it was even a raccoon. How cool would that be? A raccoon in his bedroom!
Then he felt the cold, sharp agony of its touch. He felt the mouth over his shoulder and the teeth sinking into him. He felt the drain as the monster sucked his life away. He tried and tried to fight it but his body would not move, could not move. So he tried even harder to scream, to call to his mother for help. But no noise passed through his lips.
In the pale stream of dim moonlight that passed through their curtains he could just barely make out his sister. It was enough. He could see that she, too, was writhing in agony. He wanted desperately to help her, but he couldn’t even help himself.
And then, suddenly, the monster was gone. So he screamed. Ginny screamed. A moment later their mother was there, comforting both of them. But no sooner had they quieted than Bruce filled the silence. He really liked to yell at them. He scared Ginny, but not Johnny. Johnny thought he was a coward who wouldn’t do anything more than yell, even to a five year old.
“What are you screaming at? Go back to sleep!” he roared, and stormed off.
Johnny scowled after the man as his mother comforted Ginny. It made him so mad that that big, cowardly bully shared a name with his favorite superhero. He didn’t deserve to have an awesome name like that. When his mother finally left, too, he pulled the blanket high up over his head. He fought it for as long as he could, but eventually he fell back asleep and the rest of the night passed without incident.
His mother spent all day trying to convince him that he’d imagined it, that it was just a dream. It almost worked. After all, Ginny didn’t even remember it come the light of day. And the monsters hadn’t left any marks.
It almost worked, but it didn’t. Johnny could see how tired his sister was, the dark bags under her eyes. He could see his own matching pair when he looked in the mirror as he brushed his teeth that morning. Even his mother remarked on how tired he seemed that morning, but even so she couldn’t seem to put it all together.
Why wouldn’t she believe him? Her boyfriend was even worse. Bruce kept treating him like a stupid baby for crying in the dark. He never could figure out why his mother liked him. He was even more awful than her last three boyfriends, and they were pretty awful. But he’d never disliked Bruce quite as intensely as he did that morning.
On the second night they came, Johnny was scared right from the beginning. He knew what to expect this time. That definitely did not improve the experience.
“Be brave like Batman,” his mother told him. As if all he had to fear was the dark.
He went to sleep with his blanket pulled tight over his head. The thick blue blanket was far too warm for that evening, but he insisted and overruled his mother’s objections. He hoped the thicker blanket would keep the monsters away. His mother thought he just wanted Luke Skywalker. He was happy to let her have her delusions.
Soldiers always bring demons home from war with them. But when Michael Alexander returned home from Afghanistan, literal demons followed him home. Michael must stop their reign of terror. The Army can’t decide whether to lock him up or recruit him. Meanwhile, his not-quite-father-in-law carries his own old war secret, and Michael must resolve the issues that sent him to war in the first place.
The following chapter takes place about midway through the book. It’s a tad light on the urban fantasy elements, but it makes up for that with a lot of fun.
The six cylinder, three point six liter turbo charged boxer engine let out a deep growl as Michael pressed the gas pedal to the floor. An all wheel drive system and four fat contact patches on eighteen inch tires helped transfer most of that power straight to the ground. Even so, the tires squealed for a moment on the wet pavement before they stuck.
The country roads just outside the Covington estate weren’t built for high speed traffic. The hills and trees impeded visibility and provided plenty of obstacles that the narrow, winding roads made it difficult to avoid. Fortunately, Michael had spent his teenage years driving these roads at a far higher speed than sanity would dictate. Even more fortunately, none of the neighbors seemed to be out on the road this late in the evening.
The bumps and potholes jostled them around but the 2002 Porsche Carrera 4 Turbo stayed locked to the pavement. Michael kept his eyes just as firmly fixed on the road. Through unspoken agreement, Peter watched for the Land Rover. It had enough of a head start to be well out of sight, and it had an engine almost as powerful as the Porsche’s. But it also weighed twice as much and couldn’t handle the curves of the country roads the way the German sports car did. If it went off road the story would be different, but Peter saw no signs that it had.
Their first challenge approached as the road ended into another unnamed county highway. They’d have to pick a direction. Michael prayed as he eased on the breaks and downshifted.
“There,” Peter called out as he pointed to his right. Michael didn’t even look, instead he simply threw the car into a hard right turn and gunned the accelerator again. As they power slid through the stop sign at a speed higher than the posted limit, Michael caught the flash of red light himself. The giant MagLite rolled around the floor boards.
Peter slammed his fist into the dashboard in frustration as the taillights dipped under a hilltop about a quarter mile in the distance. But Michael knew these roads. He knew that this stretch would be almost perfectly straight well past the horizon. He pushed his foot to the floor and the engine roared as the little car gave him everything it had. The road was in poor repair and hadn’t been paved in some time. At their speed, they felt every bump.
The car rocketed over the hilltop at a hundred and ten miles per hour. Peter gripped the sides of his seat for all he was worth as raw speed carried them airborne for nearly twenty yards. The landing was hard, but it was square on the wheels and barely interrupted their motion. They skidded for a moment on the wet asphalt, but then the tires found their grip. Michael kept the wheels pointed dead straight on the landing and they continued to rocket down the road.
Rain poured down on them and the wind buffeted the car around. On every turn, the squeal of tires pierced through even the overpowering sound of the torrential downpour. At the speeds Michael took the turns, the tires would have squealed even on dry roads. Lightning occasionally lit up the sky, but otherwise visibility was terrible.
“How can you see anything in this?” The nervousness in Peter’s normally unflappable voice stood out like a sore thumb.
“Last time I did this I couldn’t even see this well.”
Peter’s eyes popped out of his head.
“You’ve chased a Muslim terrorist down these roads at three times the speed limit in the middle of a rain storm at night before?”
“You think he’s some kind of Islamic terrorist?” Michael answered, genuinely surprised. Peter winced as they entered a windy section of road. Michael rode the center line, which allowed him to navigate the turns as an almost-straight line. Peter didn’t want to think about what would happen if they encountered an oncoming car in the other lane.
As they pulled out toward the end, Peter caught a glimpse of headlights rising over a ridge and whipped hard back into his own lane. he knocked his head on the window and let out a groan. He made a mental note to bring his motorcycle helmet next time he let Michael drive him anywhere. On second thought, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t let Michael drive again. Ever.
“Well, I don’t know if he’s Muslim,” Peter allowed
“As far as I know, he’s your typical non-religious, rich son of a rich oilman.”
“Fine, not Islamic! But those things at the house and that yellow eyed creature seem pretty terrifying to me!” Peter answered. Michael allowed that he had a point before responding to the charge.
“No, there was no rain last time,” Michael answered the original question in his calm voice. “And definitely no Islamic terrorists.”
“What were you thinking, man?”
“I was just driving fast for the hell of it… and maybe also because my blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit. So it was actually a lot harder to see.” Michael stated calmly. Peter stared at the crazy man in the driver’s seat, wondering if he really knew his friend at all. Michael didn’t take his eyes off the road – not even for a heartbeat – but he could sense the young man’s reaction. “I was also driving faster. But I know these roads like the back of my hand. We’ll be good, I promise.”
“Were you always so brilliant in your youth?”
“Oh, some of my youthful ideas were far better than that.” Ahead of them the road ended abruptly. The road it emptied into was technically a state highway. To Peter, it didn’t look like any improvement over the county road that was rapidly running out beneath them.
“How did you ever survive to adulthood?”
“I credit my guardian angel.”
“He must have put in a lot of overtime.”
“He never really stopped,” Michael countered.
A family of white tailed deer jumped out into the road in front of them. Tires squealed as Michael swerved right and brought the car to a complete stop. Peter’s face was ashen, but Michael never lost his cool. He’d trusted the German engineering, and the gigantic anti-lock brakes hadn’t let him down. He smoothly shifted back into first gear. The instant the deer gave him an opening, he pressed firmly on the gas pedal and released the clutch.
The engine stalled out.
His right foot continued to press down, but nothing happened. Something blocked the accelerator. He looked down to find that the MagLite had rolled under the pedal. He kicked it out with his foot, mashed the clutch in again, and restarted the engine. He revved the flat six engine high and popped the clutch out again. Four hundred and sixty two horses squealed through the tires at once. When the tires finally stuck, the silver car took off like a jackrabbit on steroids.
The Land Rover was once again out of sight. Michael pushed the car as hard as he dared on the wet country roads. It was faster than Peter would have liked, but he said nothing. Instead he resumed his scan, trying to pick up any trace of Khalid’s getaway car. Another intersection approached.
“Left!” Peter called out, pointing for emphasis. Michael lifted the parking brake handle and twisted the wheel throwing the Porsche into a hard sideways slide. Before they’d even slid through the intersection he gunned the accelerator again. The wheels screeched on the wet roads, fighting hard for traction, but eventually they stuck and the car rocketed out of the turn.
“I said left!” Peter shouted at him.
“These old roads all come out at the same spot,” Michael responded calmly. ” This way’s faster – we’ll shave off some time and catch up to him.” Without warning he braked hard and yanked the wheel hard to the left. Peter let out a small yelp and closed his eyes.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…” he prayed. To his great surprise they did not crash into a tree. The ride did slow a bit, but the extra bumps made up for it. The cavalry sabre rattled in it scabbard between his knees.
He finished his prayer and opened his eyes again. In the limited visibility, he could see that they were rocketing down a small dirt road – more mud, really, in this mess. Its single lane, if you could call it that, was barely big enough for the Porsche.
“I didn’t even see that road there,” he admitted to Michael.
“This place was still a working tobacco plantation up until the late 1950s. The farm hands had to get around a lot. There are Jeep trails like this all over the place out here.” He flashed Peter a quick grin. “I told you, I know these roads like the back of my hand.”
A moment later the dirt road ended. Michael took a hard right again. The smoother asphalt allowed them to gain speed, but the road wasn’t much wider than the mud path they’d just left. They drifted around another hard turn before the road opened up. The straightaway wasn’t huge, but it was significantly larger than any they’d had so far. Michael took advantage of it and opened up the throttle.
“There they are,” he pointed across the field at a pair of headlights moving at an oblique angle toward them. “We’ve got them now.” They could see the SUV clearly now, even through the rain. The Porsche’s headlights illuminated it enough to be sure it was the right vehicle. As Michael had predicted, the two roads converged at an intersection ahead. Peter flinched as he saw the stop sign approaching.
“Michael, that intersection is coming up awfully fast.” The bulky Land Rover loomed before them, growing quickly in their field of view.
“Yup,” the older man replied. “Please return all tray tables and seat backs to their full upright position and make sure your seat belt is secure.” His own already was.
“Huh?” Peter said, double checking his belt. With his right hand he fastened a tight grip around the handle above the door. With his left he grabbed the seat underneath him. The crash came a few seconds later.