The Step By Step Guide to Publishing and Ranking #1 on Kindle!

Ranking #1 on Kindle: A Step-by-Step Guide to Successfully Publishing and Launching your Ebook!

Want to learn how to publish and launch your book? How about ranking #1 on Kindle? Great! You’re in the right place!

After I finished my first book, my editor (I’ll get to that in a minute) told me that the easy part was writing the book- the hard part she said, was marketing the thing.  I didn’t believe her, but she explained that for a first -time author, it is difficult to get noticed and to sell a bunch of copies: in her words, it was  going to be a slog.

So I was determined to have a plan how to publish properly on Kindle.

 I did a bunch of research. I read a lot of blog posts.  I even bought an Amazon publishing course on Udemy that gave me very few new strategies.
This blog post is the sum of what I learned, filling in the holes where there were any,  as well as some of the logic behind what I did to get my book to #1 on Amazon Kindle.
 To make it easy for you, I put it in a calendar infographic to give you an idea of the big picture (just click on the image to get a larger image):


Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 4.53.33 PM
Before I get into details of  the strategy and timeline, let me bring a up a few things when you’re putting your book together that are hugely important, and can help your sales and rankings:


For reals- Hire and editor.  A good one.  This is important for a variety of reasons.  First, ideally you will not want to publish garbage and a good editor can help you avoid that. Also, even if you have a killer story and follow all of the grammatical rules, invariably there will be some mistakes and typos.  And you know what?  People will find them and despite your story many jerks will rate your book 1-star simply because of this. 


After doing some research on the internet- I settled on an editor that I thought would be a good fit-  But I did this after interviewing a few, checking prices and reading their websites.  I chose Lori Handelman with Clear Voice editing and with her advice, decided to proceed with the editing in a 2-step format.  First I had her do an “evaluation.”


Basically I wanted to know if what I wrote was worth a shit.  If it wasn’t- I wouldn’t publish it- even on Kindle.  This cost  – for my manuscript  which was about 50k words- a little over $400.

It was, as are most editing services, priced by that word.

It took 4 days once she started and I received a brief evaluation and then 17 pages of changes. 17! Quite thorough, and kind of a bummer.  but her consensus was that it was worth the effort to revise.  So, 3 months later I ordered a copy edit (there are other types of edits where you can hash out different things, but these were the 2 I used) that basically went over the book with a fine-toothed comb, suggested changes, and went through and corrected grammar, commas, etc.  Did you know there’s more than one type of dash?  I did not.  Through her suggestions, I think I made 200-300 minor fixes.  This edit cost about $1700.

So for everything – I was in for about $2k.

If, you are writing about raising sea monkeys, you might not want to pay this much for editing services. But, if you have a great book, and are worried about the random negative review from some grammar mistakes,  it is worth it.

I did not use word to revise/edit my manuscript and eventually upload.  After the first revision ( altogether I did 4 and I hate revisions.) I bought Scrivener, after reading about it online.  It is a great word processing program for writers and other creative types putting together projects.  I loved how it allowed me to move things around on a virtual cork board, lay out chapters, and ultimately compile the entire document.  It is not easy- but not terribly hard either. I used maybe 20% of its capabilities, but decided to buy it – $40 or so- since I really needed to revamp the existing manuscript and move things around- and had no idea how to do that in word. Scrivener is a very cool program. There is a learning curve as it doesn’t act like MS Word in some ways. But there are lots of support videos on youtube.

The cork board and powerful compile feature are worth the price alone:

One more thing– on the construction of the book. You really only need an e-book cover once you have a serviceable interior (that Scrivener supplies!) for Kindle.  (For paperbacks, that is a bit of a different story, but we’re still on Kindle.)
But the cover is hugely important- it needs to pop from the screen, especially in a tiny thumbnail. To get one designed- you might consider any number of resources, but I used Fiverr.


If you’re not familiar with Fiverr, it’s a website where you can find all sorts of creative and tech types, like book designers as well as coders, who will do simple to complex jobs for a fee.  The fees all start at – yes- $5 – and then go up from there. These are called “gigs.”
I spent some time going through different listings and “gigs” and even tried 2-3  different artists- because at those prices you can afford to.  Also, every artist has their own style.


But- here’s a caveat:  for those prices, do NOT expect the artist to spend tons of time conceptualizing (depending of course, on which gig “extras” you choose)  I had a general concept and colors in mind, and so, with revisions, I spent about $40 for my cover:
Small Town Ho
25 years ago I spent $4k for one company logo!
Ok, now.  Let’s talk about the launch and the countdown to launch.
Amazon, like Google, has its own algorithm, and has one for how books rank on Kindle.  At the end of the day, it boils down to:

The # of downloads you have
The $ your book has made
The number and quality of the books reviews
The category the book is in- namely its competition

So, to launch and hit #1, you need to optimize for as many of these categories as possible.
We’re going to focus on three:
Using Kindle KDP Select to gather as many downloads as possible during a free giveaway period
Using your personal network to get early reviews
Using the right Kindle book categories
Below, I will explain what these things mean and how to optimize for them.
Let’s Go. Here’s the countdown.
30 Days before Launch:
  • Set-up Social Media accounts
  • Begin Securing Advance Reviews
The first one is easy. If you don’t have them already, you should set up a Facebook author or book page, a twitter account, and any other social media accounts you feel comfortable with. You will use these to announce your book  as well as talk to your fans (!) and further market your book. (If you do not have a bit of following you will need to try to develop one or ask friends to possibly share theirs.  Otherwise you’ll be shouting into the wilderness!)

Secure Advance Reviews. For this you should ideally use a combination of two methods- contacting friends to review your book, as well as influencers.

Influencers are just what that sounds like- people of influence. These can be other authors you are hoping to get a review or blurb from or even a celebrity. Here’s why NOT to send to celebrities…

But, don’t stop there.  In today’s world,  bloggers and people with a big social media following are influencers.  They can mention your work- ideally share it- or if you have a website, link back to you.  So ask yourself who these people are and compile their contact information.

Finding these people is a blog post in and of itself.  But I used a combination of two tools.  (Well, 3 if you count Google!)

 I used Buzzsumo to find influencers on social media.  This is a fee-based tool, but you can you use small bits of the results for free.
I used Ninja Outreach  to help find the people behind the blogs.  This is also a fee based tool, but it has a free trial, that you might be able to use and get all of the info you need.
It might seem like 30 days is a long time to give people to read your book, but I learned firsthand a few things:
 It takes people a while to get around to reading your book- even though to you its the most important thing in the world!
The response rate for strangers probably won’t be higher than 1-2%. So cast your net wide.
Friends still don’t all respond– I sent mine to our Christmas cars list.  I got a 15% response rate.  This will likely be lower if you use Facebook friends, but if you have a lot this would be a good way to go.

To contact your influencers, just use email.  Write them a nice note, and attach your book as a pdf.  (Just Save As PDF)  Let them know when the ideal launch date is and that you’d appreciate a review. Also, Let them know the importance of the review in the rankings without being to needy. (We use a PDF since it doesn’t potentially carry viruses and will more likely be opened.)

14 Days From Launch:
  • Register with KDP –  Kindle Direct Publishing
  • Pick Keywords
  • Pick Categories
  • Write a Killer Book description
 Registering with KDP is actually pretty easy.  All you need is to use your Amazon account email address.  If you don’t have an Amazon account, welcome to Earth.

Kidding.  Just click sign- up and “I am a new customer.”  It will then ask for your email and set you up a new account.

Before we get to choosing keywords, categories, and investigating pricing, we need to register your book and do the necessary paperwork to get it ready to publish, get paid by Amazon, deal with taxes, etc.
Don’t worry- you are not uploading your book yet.  And, you can make changes to this information at any time.  But, since this is where the you access keywords, etc, it makes sense to deal with some of this right now.

I won’t go into detail on a lot of the housekeeping items in this process, but Amazon walks you through it, and has some pretty decent help pages for all of this. Start here.  All the personal information you’re going to need is basically this:

  • Your bank account and routing number for the account where you want you royalties (!) sent
  • Your social security number or EIN if you have formed a legal entity
  • The name of the publishing house- in most cases – unless you’ve signed a book deal or want to create  your own imprint- this will be Kindle Digital Services

Pretty Simple.  The tricky stuff- but not really – is deciding the next few items- Keywords and categories.  Let’s take a look at each:

 Keywords:  Like search engine results, Amazon relies a fair amount on search terms or keywords to deliver results.  Horror book.  Graphic Novel about Vampires.  Things like that.  Therefore you need to supply Amazon with keywords about your book that apply.


But, just like building a website, you should try and find appropriate keywords as well as ones that have high search traffic!  However, there is a sweet spot as high traffic words tend to be more broad and have a much higher competition amongst them or crowded playing field.  For my own book, I used a couple of keywords that were, in fact, authors I thought were similar to me, with the idea that someone searching for them would find my book.  So far this has worked fairly well.


How do you find the right keywords?  Although you could probably use any keyword tool, why not use one that is Amazon-centric?  Merchant Words is such a tool.  Although it is fee-based, you can generate a certain number of free searches daily.  Keep in mind, however that this is an Amazon-wide tool, not just for books, so in some cases you need to consider that for the keywords you are searching for and the results the tool returns.


Ok.  Categories.  Here’s the deal: At the launch of your book, you want to be in the least competitive category possible that still applies to your topic.  This allows you to climb the rankings quickly at which point you can change categories if you want.  Also, you can only pick two categories at a time, so you can consider having different areas to attract more people.


The confusing/bummer part?  Categories don’t always match your book exactly NOR do they necessarily match on the Amazon registration page where you pick them versus where you see them on the book results.  In many cases categories you see on actual book results are drilled down way lower than what is available for you to pick.  So you are going to have to do your best.


Not sure what I mean?  Here’s an example.  My book, Small Town Ho is a humorous memoir about our family’s move across country.  When I looked at some similar humorous memoirs, I found one by Mindy Kaling. Notice the category it’s in:


Notice how far the categories drill down?


Now, if you go to the KDP page where you are setting up your book, this is the only option available to me:


You will need to rely on your best judgement, the competition, the relevance of the proposed category to your book, and the search volume, to decide.
Confused?  Worried?  DON’T BE.  Here’s the beauty of publishing on Kindle:  You can change your prices, categories, keywords, and even your manuscript at any time.  The trick is to monitor your results – and change back if necessary.
So how do you find a category that is less competitive?  Pretty simple actually:
Find a book in your category- or one that you think will work for you.  I will show you the category I considered and one that I ultimately decided upon:


Once you find a category you  think might work, click on the category.  It will bring up this page: 2016-02-29 16-36-31


Click on the top 100 paid:


top 100 paid
Next, go to the bottom of the page that comes up, and click on 81-100, and then scroll down to #100. 2016-02-29 16-39-19
Click on the book, and look at its Kindle rank:


Write that down.  Now do the exact same exercise for a different category you are considering.


If that Kindle rank is Higher –  or a smaller # indicating that it is a better seller – then that category is more competitive and you will have a harder time ranking for it.
Once you’ve done this exercise, I recommend plugging the category back into the keyword search tool to see how much volume is actually there and to further sharpen your keyword ideas.


PHEW!  I realize that was a bunch of info, but don’t worry- we’re almost done with this section!..The only item left is write a killer book description.
No, you don’t necessarily have to do it today, but I found it’s good, at the very least, to start it and then polish it so you’ll have it ready. And if you’re like me, the LAST thing I wanted to deal with on launch day was writing a book description.   (I didn’t really feel like it at all. )


But, my editor lectured me that it is VERY important:  Kindle buyers read the description like book buyers read the back cover. The problem I had?  Switching gears from being an author and writing flattering things about myself.  So, I got my son to do it.  He nailed a first draft.  Then I tweaked it a bit using ideas for phrases and adjectives from other descriptions from books that were similar to my own.    

10 Days from Launch:
  • Reconnect with Influencers/Email List
This is pretty easy.  Just email your influencers and friends and let them know you are still on schedule for your launch date.  Thank them for reading the book a leaving a review.  Let them know that you will send a really quick email on launch day to let them know it’s live ( and they won’t know it, but you are going to send them a painfully easy link to review the book! )
7 Days from Launch:

  • Schedule Kindle Select Free Days
  • Register with Free Book Sites
  • Set/Investigate Pricing
Like I said way up above, it makes sense to sign up for Kindle Select in order to take advantage of the free giveaways.  This may seem counterintuitive, but here’s why you want to give tons of your books away:


It will give you a huge boost in downloads and in the “Free Kindle” section
It will invite more reviews which add to your ranking
It will get your  book out there- which is what you want!


The caveat here is this:  for Kindle Select, you must sign up for 90 days exclusively with Kindle.  You may not have any other e-books out there, just Kindle.  ( You may however, have paperbacks!)  After that you can “re-up”if you want or not.  If you don’t then you are free to put your ebook on other formats like Smashwords, etc.


The other caveat?  You have only 5 days to give your book away, so you should maximize them.  I have seen different posts where people used the full 5 days all at once, and others who did it piecemeal.  After a bunch of research, I chose to give away my book for 3 days and then when it had cooled off, do it for another 2.


Here’s what happened:
The book still hit #1 in the Free Kindle and soon thereafter the Paid Kindle for its category
The increased number of reviews in between the two giveaway periods, and better preparation for the second allowed the 2 day period to actually exceed the 3 day period.
The 2nd Free period vaulted the book back to #1 in its category!
So, I would advise you to do something similar.
The only thing you have to think about is when to give your book away.  Thankfully Digital Book Today has done some research for you that was featured in this great blog post. 2016-03-01 08-04-49


As you can see, the most popular days are primarily Friday-Monday.  Once you pick your calendar days, just log-on to KDP/Kindle Select to set your free period.   Go to your “Bookshelf.”
There, click on the ellipses and click on Promote and Advertise: 2016-03-01 08-14-01
Then Click on Free Promotion: 2016-03-01 08-15-31


Then just set your date.  It’s beneficial to do this all in advance so you won’t run into issues. Also,having the date set will allow you to:
Register with Free Book Sites.
There has been a lot written about this and there are a lot of ways to promote your book on free sites, whether it’s having a service Tweet it for you, or going on Fiverr and paying someone to market it for you.


Or you can do all of the heavy lifting yourself, by going to individual free book sites and Facebook free book pages and registering your book.
Ultimately I decided to do 2 things that worked well ( and I would do them again but do BOTH things for BOTH giveaways )


I used Digital Book Today’s Free Book Giveaway notification service.  Because I did not have the requisite # of reviews I had to pay $15.  But by all accounts it was worth it and they are a leading ebook site.


For the 2nd giveaway period, I used this service.  It cost $15, but once I put all of my book information in the website, it took just a few minutes to distribute to 30+ sites.
When you consider the time it would take to do this- find the sites/facebook clubs etc, AND submit to them, I felt $30 (for both) was worth it.
Of Course, you will want to notify all of your friends and social media contacts as well, but it’s safer to wait to the day of the launch to do it  (or do it multiple times!)
Pro-Tip:  Because of Facebook reducing a “Page’s” reach- forcing you to buy ads or boost your post- use your personal page for announcements that you want to reach your FB friends .  This, rather than your “page” will reach more people.

OK. Now. Let’s move on to pricing!  Because you can change prices at the drop of a hat on Kindle, this exercise can be somewhat fluid, but I like to at least get started on early, think about it, ask friends advice, etc.

There are 2 pricing structures on Kindle:  $0.99- $2.99 that earns a 30% royalty and $2.99- $9.99 that earns a 70% royalty.
People have postured that pricing at $.99 drives sales and your rankings.  I suppose it does.  But I worked hard on my book and wanted at least $2 or more for my work.  So I never considered the lower range EXCEPT for the First DAY.


And it worked out fine.  But, you might still wonder what price is the best? I suppose it depends on a bunch of things. But I chose to look at the data : Again the research has been done for you!


Based on this, and my own comfort level, I chose $3.99 at the outset and have stuck with it- for the most part.
Actually, We are there!  Time to launch!
This is simply a matter of uploading your Kindle ready file to KDP.  It takes seconds.  And your cover art. Kindle’s spell check will point out potential spelling errors. 2016-03-01 08-30-11
Note:  I did NOT enable Digital Rights Management or DRM.  If you’re not sure what it is and whether or not you want it, check out this really good blog post.
Next, use the online previewer to check the formatting.  There !  You’re Done!  Note- it does take some time to populate into Kindle.
HOLD IT!  I lied, you’re not done.  Two  more things:
The day of your launch, email all of your reviewers that the book is live.  And, make it super simple for them to review.  I did this two ways.
First, I did screenshots of what the Amazon pages looked like when you are about to review so if they were at all unfamiliar with Amazon it would make it easier: 2016-03-01 08-35-08

Then, I included in the email a link to the review page of my book, so they wouldn’t  have to find it on Amazon.  To do this, simply go to your book’s page, and scroll down to where it says “review this book.”
Then copy and paste that url from your browser into your email.  That’s it!


1 day prior to your Free Give Away, raise your book’s price – that way when it’s free,  it will show the original price and how much they will save by downloading your book.  If you choose to do this optional step,  make sure to change your price back for after the giveaway is over!
Also,  after your launch, follow up with friends via social media, and try and gather any more reviews that might not have come in.
Congratulations!  You’re a Kindle Author!  And, if you follow this guide, you might even get to see some cool things like this!

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