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How My Indie Book Came Back From The Dead

How My Indie Book Came Back From The Dead

Indie author Christopher Shevlin gives an inspiring account of how he reversed falling sales of his self-published novel and turned it into an Amazon bestseller.

At midnight on Wednesday, March 13th, I solemnly pronounced my book dead. No vital signs had been detected in ten days. That’s a long time to go without selling a single copy.

The book, The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax, had a better innings than I’d expected. At death, it had sold 782 copies, mainly because of reviews in Stylist, Metro and The Guardian. The graph shows the effects of these reviews – I’m never sure whether to be surprised at how many sales they produced or how few.

List of key events in Shevlin's book salesSales graph for Shevlin's book

In August, the month of the Stylist review, it had sold 323 copies. But they soon fell away and by November I had lost heart. I found that I couldn’t bring myself to tweet or blog or even use Facebook. I hated to feel like I was saying things just to get people to buy the book, but I couldn’t forget that’s what I wanted people to do. Sales shrivelled to 58 in December, 41 in January and about the same in February.

Cause of Death

However, the cause of the book's death wasn’t my inactivity. On February 27th, I updated the book's description to include my press reviews and a blurb written for me by Mark Edwards (of The Magpies and IndieIQ). But Amazon made a mistake. The UK Kindle version of my book began displaying two descriptions, one after the other – one meant for the US and one for the UK. People must have seen it as a bad sign of the book’s quality. What kind of publisher makes a stupid mistake like that?

I spent ages trying to get Amazon to fix the problem. There should be a support service to help you deal with their customer support: one of my emails to them was answered by five different people at the same time, all saying different things. It took them nearly three weeks to sort it out. On March 16th they succeeded, but the book was dead.

Brought Back to Life

Cover of The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax by Christopher ShevlinFor about six weeks, it sold one or two copies a day. Then it sold four. And then the average jumped a bit higher. It's been gradually getting better every week since, and now I sell about 14 a day. A couple of weekends ago the grand total passed a thousand, last weekend it hit 1100, and this weekend it reached 1200.

Apart from changing the description, the only other things I’ve done – though well after the increase began – is to follow advice from David Gaughran on categories and Joanna Penn on keywords.

I found a bestseller list that fitted my book and was easy to get into, and then changed one of my categories so that I qualified for it. As a result, my book spent a while at number one in political humour. And the increase in sales has been self-reinforcing, as it’s got me into the humorous fiction bestseller list, making my book more visible. Last Sunday, when I sold 21 copies, my book reached number 33 in that list and had a sales rank better than 1,500 – its best ever. I even overtook The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the first funny book I read and still my favourite.

I’ve fallen a few ranks since Sunday, but I feel better knowing that a book can have a new lease of life at any time. I hope you do too.


Author: Chris Shevlin

Christopher Shevlin is the author of "The Perpetual Astonishment of Jonathon Fairfax", which is now just about alive again. Writing it is one of the most fun things he’s ever done, and he hopes to do another one someday. His blog is christophershevlin.com.


This Post Has 15 Comments
  1. I will say being new to all of this, it’s hard to really understand what “good” sales are. Obviously, one book a day isn’t a lot; however, when you’re a complete unknown starting out, I would think it’s not too shabby. 14 books a day sounds pretty good to me. Have you ever seen an article that discusses this and guides new authors into knowing what to expect?

    Thanks for the links on the categories and meta data. I believe I’ve run across those earlier. They are very helpful and in addition to our online book tour, I believe have helped us in sales. KDP customer support is frustrating. I have found that if I give exact instructions on what I would like them to do it works better than asking a question.

    Hope all continues to go well for you,

  2. Congratulations on moving your book up in the rankings! Book promotion sometimes seems like an infinite black hole from which we never return, once we get sucked in.

    The good news is…..once that book is published, it is an EVERGREEN product that sits out there forever on the shelves of Amazon–unless it goes belly up–and I don’t see that happening anytime soon!

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks very much, Penelope. It’s fallen hugely in the rankings in the last three days, but I’m taking that as a sign that I should be less obsessive about watching every fluctuation in sales rank. Now that I’ve sorted out the basics – description, metadata, that sort of thing – I hope the book will look after itself a bit more, and I’m prepared for it to go down as well as up.

  3. I know how frustrating it can be to deal with FDP support, (I use the term lightly) I have been trying to get Amazon to fix a problem with the categories for one of my books, (it isn’t appearing in the category I have selected in the dashboard) and it’s been 6 weeks all ready. Every time I got an email, it was from a different person, and I was fobbed off with stock replies like ‘we prefer authors to change categories themselves’ and stupid things like we can’t add it because this is a non-fiction category and you book is fiction ( I had to send them a list the books in the category that were fiction for them to drop that one).

    Then they said that they had added it to the category, but they hadn’t. That happened twice. They have finally admitted that there is a problem and apparently it’s taking a while to fix. I presume it is affecting others as well, but maybe no one else has noticed, or maybe it is only my book. Anyhoo, I’ve had to be determined to sort this out and it isn’t ended yet. When my book does appear in the category it should ie teen/social issues/bullying, it should have a good chance of hitting a decent rank. When it first came out, it hit the top there several times, but at some point it fell off that shelf!

    I figured i wasn’t the only one having trouble with communications with the giant. I’m glad you got it sorted,

    1. Good luck, Tahlia. It took me a huge effort to stop myself getting angry with them. At least half of them just skim what you’ve read until they find the first problem and then send you an automated response.

  4. Thx – wil look into categories and book description.
    Any advice on Create Space? Can’t get it to upload the Kindle edition!

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