LIFT Speaks Ep 22 with Tracy Levinson: How to Become a Best-Selling Author on Amazon

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Tracy Levinson, first-time author, is a bull-dog when it comes to prioritizing.  As a self-published author, Tracy did her research, designed her book launch strategy, unwaveringly executed, and achieved her goal as a best-selling author on Amazon – not in one category – but in 5 different categories.  Join us on LIFT Speaks and learn the secret of successfully launching a book on Amazon.   

A Few Questions with Tracy 

I wrote this book because . . . I wanted to create a book with real questions from real young women & men about dating, love, sex–and how they all intertwine with an invisible God.

The biggest surprise for me as an author is . . . Books seem to be credibility enhancers. Many doors for speaking (public speaking & podcasts) opened for me because I wrote a book. 

One question people should ask me is . . . they should definitely ask me where to get the best Mexican food in TEXAS!  If not that, perhaps they could ask why I am not an atheist anymore.

My older self would coach my younger self to . . . Be ambitious, work your tail off & do good.  Also, be a bull-dog when it comes to prioritizing & tending to your personal health & primary relationships.

One thing I wish I knew when I was younger is . . . know & embrace who you are, because you are wonderfully made.  Also, for vanity sake, please cover your face as much as you can from the sun…you will thank me.  

Introduction

Catherine Miller: Today we’re visiting with Tracy Levinson. She is an author of the book Unashamed. I invited Tracy to visit with us today because she took her book, discovered the tricks of self-publishing, and got her book ranked number one within a week on Amazon. I have invited Tracy to give us some tips about publishing a book and how to get your book found and become known.

Tracy, welcome.

Tracy Levinson: Thank you.

Catherine Miller: I’m so glad that you’re here today. I know you did a ton of research and you checked on self-publishing versus going to a standard publishing house. Can you take us down how you ended up choosing self-publishing?

Tracy Levinson: Yes. I know so many people do long to write a book at some point, and those are really two viable options right now. It has become easier and easier to self-publish, which we’re going to talk about today. But, finding an agent is still a viable option as well. Really the main difference is, are you willing to put forth some money and some resources to self-publish? When you use an agent, then the publishing house is really going to be the one who’s investing their money.

So, there’s a big financial difference and then if you’re a brand-new author, a lot of times publishing houses and agents aren’t interested in you unless you have a huge platform, right? And so, a lot of times for a first book, if you think you might be able to do well, which no one really knows that for sure, it’s easier to self-publish the first time and then perhaps get an agent for the second book.

Catherine Miller: Right. I do remember some years ago, we were looking at publishing a book and we were checking out all the different options and when we would get on websites to some of the publishing houses, they would basically say, “Don’t contact us. We will contact you.” There’s a lot of them whose doors are closed the first time.

Tracy Levinson: And a lot of that has to do with platform. So again, if you are a person who has a very large platform, which would mean, perhaps your social media platform, or maybe you are an executive at a major company that’s nationally known, just something where there’s some numbers and maybe you have a famous name or famous person. Maybe you’re on a reality show or something like that where the public knows you. But again, if you are a first-time author, self-publishing is a really good option to consider.

Catherine Miller: OK. So, what caused you to weed out the publishing house for you personally?

Tracy Levinson: I didn’t have a huge platform. I did have an agent that looked at my work, and I knew that I wanted a lot of creative control, and that is another difference between the two. A lot of times even with your book cover, if you go with an agent, they’re going to narrow your options. They’re going to give you three choices, and you would have to pick out of the three. I just had a lot of ideas and creative things I wanted to do with my book visually, that I knew you have a lot more leeway when you self-publish. Like I could choose my own editor. As a self-publisher, I could say, “Well, I don’t like that edit.” If I go with a publishing house, I really don’t have as much control – especially as a new author.

Catherine Miller: Yes.

Tracy Levinson: I just am not going to have that much flexibility.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: And I do want to say one other difference between the two as well. A lot of times with a publishing house, if you are a not well-known author and they’ve taken 11 books on for that season, you are probably going to get the interns and you’re probably not going to get their best editor, their best graphic designer.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: So because I was a new author, I wanted creative control.

Catherine Miller: Good. Yeah, and it absolutely makes sense on the business end. Why would a publishing house put their top people on someone who’s pretty much unknown?

So, you chose to go down the self-publishing route and you did a ton of research. You took a couple of months to really dig in deep and to learn how to publish and you did a great job. You knocked it out of the ballpark. What are some of the tips that you can teach us and people who are interested in entering into that world to have great success in self-publishing?

Tracy Levinson: I think there are some practical things. I started with just kind of going, “What am I doing and why am I doing it?” Well, I wanted to write a book for millennials on dating, and I also thought I want to be a best-selling author and it was like – I tried to analyze myself. Like, why do I want to be a best-selling author? I don’t know why I did.

I just kind of wanted the credibility, it was almost like a game. It almost felt like wanting to be an athlete. I wanted to compete. So, I thought, “Well, how do you do that?” I spent a couple of months studying best-selling authors and I realized that for my genre, which would be millennials and their parents, Amazon would be a really good platform – because they – millennials – order most of their books on Amazon, right?

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: Not in bookstores, and so I was trying to figure out how to become a best-selling author and one of the things I thought about was, well, most of the time when you’re with a publisher, they will put you on every platform. . . Barnes and Noble, Amazon, iTunes, everything. . . the first week you’re published. My thinking was, “Well, if I want to be a best-selling author and I’ve decided I want to be one on Amazon, why when I release my book, why would I be on all these platforms in the beginning?” because that’s going to spread out those book sales and not just channel them all to Amazon.

I chose to funnel them all to Amazon because I wanted to be a best-selling author. So, the first thing I did is make the decision that the first couple of months of my book release, I was going to only be on Amazon, so I could funnel the sales. I chose not to sell them on my website even though I could make more money if I sold them myself on my website. But it was so important to me to be a best-selling author – more important than making more money. I decided to only sell them on Amazon to try to funnel all the sales to one spot.

Catherine Miller: OK. After the first couple of months, did you stay on Amazon only? Did you choose just to keep that as your platform or did you begin to spread out and use other platforms?

Tracy Levinson: Once I became a best-selling author – and I’m going to explain how I did this in five categories on Amazon – once that happened, then I put it on my website. Then I put it on all the other platforms – even selling them to myself. I just spread it out to all platform now.

Catherine Miller: OK, OK. We can dig into that more in a minute. What did you do then to push yourself up to number one on Amazon in five different categories? How did you even choose your categories?

Tracy Levinson: The research was really helpful to me. So again, because I chose to – I wanted to be a best-selling author and I wanted to be one on Amazon. I learned that there were different categories, and so it’s really – it’s just a game. It’s truly a game. I might have sold as many books as someone else who had them on all the platforms and sold them out of the back of their car. But on Amazon, what happens is a lot of times, authors with good publishers and good agents will look at what category they’re in on Amazon. For example, you will see like they might be under “Parenting”.

Well, that’s a pretty broad category. So, the game is if you can narrow down your category, there’s less competition in that category for your book. What I did is that a couple of weeks before I launched on Amazon, I went on Amazon and I looked at all the categories that I thought my book could fit in.  Then, I kept clicking and drilling down. For example, it might be under “parenting” and then it might be under “babies and parenting” or it could be under “breastfeeding” – sorry.

But that’s pretty narrow, right? So, you would narrow it down and the narrower your category, the more chances you can have of being the book that is at the highest-selling level of that week, and all you have to do is be a best-selling person for that week.

Catherine Miller: What happens if you’re the best-selling person that week?

Tracy Levinson: Then they put a star by your name and you can say you’re a best-selling author in that category.

Catherine Miller: OK.

Tracy Levinson: Because you were.

Catherine Miller: OK. And so then does that get you discovered and make it easier to be found on Amazon because of that?

Tracy Levinson: You know what? I don’t know the answer to that. But what I do know is that most authors are not in five categories and I fought for that. So, can I address that?

Catherine Miller: Sure.

Tracy Levinson: Because that’s a really helpful thing for authors. So, first I narrowed it down to just being on Amazon. The second thing I did is I made sure that the categories most appropriate for my book,  and I worked down and down into the smallest category they could be in. It’s almost like when you’re doing an outline.

But what I did is I learned that authors who were super famous were in up to five categories. I kept calling Amazon. I kept getting different people on the phone. So finally, I got probably the fifth or sixth person on the phone and I got him to explain to me. I said, “Well, how come this famous person is in five categories?” He said, “Well, there are just certain tiers.” I said, “Well, what do I have to do to be in five categories?” and he said, well – normally, they  are just on two and I said, “Well, can I at least have three? Can you try to get me to four?” and then I just kept calling back until they kept adding me. I’m not kidding. To five categories.

Catherine Miller: You’re persistent.

Tracy Levinson: I was very, very, very persistent.

Catherine Miller: So why was it so important to be in five categories?

Tracy Levinson: Because then I could be a best-selling author in each of those categories. I don’t know why that was important to me. I know that’s not a big deal. But it was important to me, and it has been a great marketing tool.

Catherine Miller: OK.

Tracy Levinson: It has been great because once you write a book, another way you can advertise is by helping other authors, and they will ask you to maybe give them an endorsement. Well, they would want an endorsement from a best-selling author. Does that make sense?

Catherine Miller: Right, absolutely.

Tracy Levinson: Or if I’m speaking at an event, which is a great way to sell your books, if I was a best-selling author in whatever – you know, since I was in five categories and the event is catered to parenting, they can say, “She was a best-selling author in the books for parenting millennials.” Does that make sense?

Catherine Miller: Yes.

Tracy Levinson: So, it’s just kind of a tagline that you can have near you as a speaker and as an author.

Catherine Miller: When you would take these books with you to speaking engagements, and you would sell books after your presentations, would you buy your own books from Amazon, so that you could ramp up your sales at Amazon, and then sell them yourself at the convention or conference that you were at?

Tracy Levinson: I could have done that, but I didn’t.

Catherine Miller: OK.

Tracy Levinson: I went ahead and just sold those straight out.

Catherine Miller: OK.

Tracy Levinson: But, what was interesting as well, was the launch. The launch itself is a huge piece of getting your book a lot of attention. You have this little window where you’re the new book.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: And it’s the exciting thing. So those first couple of months of the pre-launch and then the launch itself is really important.

Catherine Miller: Let’s focus on that. Let’s focus on what you did to pre-launch and then what you did to launch because I’ve heard several people who do this as a profession to say it’s almost like birthing a baby, that there’s a lot of pain, a lot of time, a lot of effort put into the pre-launch and the launch.

Tracy Levinson: And, an expensive baby.

Catherine Miller: An expensive baby. Yeah, yeah. That’s why they say most books don’t make money. Ninety, ninety-five percent of books don’t make money. So, what did you do to launch? What were your steps? What was your strategy on your pre-launch and your launch?

Tracy Levinson: Well, the first thing I did is, I looked out into the realm of social media I searched who has been releasing books that are kind of my genre. My genre would have been either parenting or dating or millennials. My book hits all the three of these areas.

I looked at other speakers out there, and I looked at their book launches, and I researched what they were doing.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: And I kind of almost just made a master list of what did they do and how did they do it. I narrowed it down to probably three that were the ones that were closest to my genre, and I noticed that they all did book launches. So, I knew that I was going to do that.

Catherine Miller: A book launch, meaning a party?

Tracy Levinson: Yeah.

Catherine Miller: Or something online or both?

Tracy Levinson: Both, and I will talk about that in a second. But the other thing that I looked at is everything they were doing and then I – once I saw all the things people were doing, I thought, “What are people not doing?” So, one of my ideas was to get endorsements for my book pretty early on.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: And the reason I did that consciously was that I just probably wanted the affirmation. But of course, you want affirmation, and then the second part was I just knew that people are busy. I wanted to give them as much time as possible because a lot of times people – I’ve had that where people start asking for endorsements and they need it within a quick timeframe. So, I would say before my book was super, super clean, I began to reach out to people that I knew and people that I didn’t know, that might support my book.

I’m telling you, I reached out to people that – kind of famous people that didn’t know me and I had several people actually read my book and endorse it. What happened with that is not only did I have those great endorsements to put in my book, which was great. It’s such a great confirmation, affirmation.

But the incredible thing that I didn’t realize it was going to do is I had all these people that read my book ahead of time and they got excited about it.

Catherine Miller: Oh, cool.

Tracy Levinson: So, when I launched – and I sent it to them. A lot of people won’t send their book until it’s pretty.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: But I’m dyslexic. I mean – you know what I mean? I’ve never written a book before. I was humble in the way that I approached it. I said, “Hey, I’m writing this book. It’s my first book.” I was very careful in the way I worded it, “I would love for you to give it a whirl.” I never wanted them to feel like I expect you to sit and pour over my book for hours.

I was like, “I would love for you to just give it a whirl or even if you just want to read a chapter, I would love any …”

So, there was a humility in that. I wasn’t just saying, “Please endorse my book. Do this thing for me.” It was like if you’re willing to – and I gave them options. Give me any comments, any corrections or if you would – it would be amazing if you would be willing to endorse it, whatever.

So, there was this sense that they were a part of it.

Catherine Miller: Yeah.

Tracy Levinson: Then I had all this enthusiasm because people felt like they – and actually in my tagline in my book of my name, it says “Tracy Levinson,” and I felt awkward putting my name as the author because I had so many hands that gave me counsel.

Catherine Miller: Advice, yeah.

Tracy Levinson: Nobody did catch a typo by the way. Not one person didn’t read through and catch one typo and I just put “Tracy Levinson and friends” as the author of this book because so many people made it better.

Catherine Miller: Well, that’s cool. I love that.

Tracy Levinson: Yeah. So back to the launch piece, the endorsement was huge. But the second piece was the launching. So, I looked at the way famous authors were out there and how they launched and a lot of them do a big launch party and a lot of them do these online launches where they will sign up 100 people.

I called my best friend and I just said, “OK. I just don’t know if I need to do 100 people or 200 people.” She was, “Why are you limiting it? Why would you limit it at all? Let as many people help you as possible.” I was like, “Oh, that’s a good idea.”

So, then I had this crazy idea of, “What if I didn’t do one launch party? What if I did a whole bunch of parties?” I reached out to all of my friends and then some people that I just knew love this topic of millennials and dating and parenting. I asked them if they would throw me a party.

Catherine Miller: Yeah, I went to one of those parties. I did. It was good.

Tracy Levinson: I said I just want to tell people what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. What I did is on my iPad. I went to the Apple Store and I had my little Apple Store friends make me a little Google document that people could just signup. So, I took my little iPad to these little parties and sometimes the parties had 6 people and sometimes they had 40.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: I would get to stand before them and let them Q and A and ask me questions about my book and why I was doing it and then say there’s no pressure. I don’t – would you like to be on my launch team? You don’t have to do anything if you’re on it. But I will – you know, I will send you just a little video of me or a little advertisement on my book, and you can put it on your Instagram or you could put it on your Facebook or you can just tell your friends.

So they usually would pass it around the little party and they all signed up on the Google doc. So, when the launch happened, I had a couple of millennials that I could pay $10 an hour come over to my house and we began to send out emails to this group saying, “Hey, the book is coming in a week. If you want to post it on social media, you can.” Then I would have the millennials come after the book launch and the same thing of – hey, we were number one in, you know, parenting teens or whatever.

So that’s just exciting for the launch team, that whole best-selling author thing. So that’s how I launched my book.

Catherine Miller: Which is cool because I did have the opportunity of participating in one of your launch parties and I did receive your email. What I remember is the gathering felt very personal. It didn’t feel like it was just all about the book. It felt like a lot of it was about hey, this has meaning. It’s significant. I want you to be a part of this.

Tracy Levinson: And there’s wine and there’s cheese.

Catherine Miller: That’s right and it’s a fun gathering, and you meet interesting people and be a part of something meaningful. At these parties, you’re collecting names of people who are willing to just put something on their Facebook page or on Instagram or something like that and to participate in the launch of it.

Tracy Levinson: And being careful not to just overwhelm them.

Catherine Miller: Right. It was simple, and it was very easy. It was like all you had to do is a few clicks, and then I felt like I was supporting my friend who had a book that I really felt like was a great book. So that’s your launch and that’s how you made a big splash from day one. What is the process after the launch?

Tracy Levinson: Yeah, this is really interesting too, and you know, you make plans and then life happens. We do the best we can, and no one ever knows. It’s like planting a seed. Writing a book is like planting a seed. Sometimes you plant a seed and it grows for a while and then sometimes you plant a seed and it doesn’t. Like I have two other books I would like to write, and they might not do as well as this book did and that’s OK.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: Because you don’t always write a book –

Catherine Miller:  And it’s a best-seller.

Tracy Levinson: So, you have to decide. But the second part of it is you have to decide whether you’re a speaker or not. Is that natural to you? Do you enjoy that? I mean life is short like – and some people just write, and that’s OK, and those books can do well too because you can do a whole social media presence. Well, you don’t have to be a speaker, but it is very helpful to speak.

I did make myself available to college campuses and different parenting groups and I would go to college campuses and talk and I would do Q-and-As. I would talk about the book. Plus I also would do a YouTube channel. That’s an incredible way of getting attention. You can create a podcast. I mean there are so many ways that you can bring attention to this project that you’ve done. Anyone who writes a book wants to help people.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: I know that you have people that watch this, and they want to help people.

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: And they want to get the word out there. The other thing that I would say that brought me the most book sales wasn’t my own podcast or my own videos or my own speaking. It has been being a guest on other podcasts.

Catherine Miller: Oh.

Tracy Levinson: The other thing you can do is again looking at your genre. If it’s business, there are tons of people out there doing business podcast. Find out who they are and introduce yourself and you can send them a copy of your book and just say, “I would love to come and be on your podcast.”

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: And then depending on their platform, it’s just like it’s that mushroom effect. I mean just more and more people get exposed to what you do.

Catherine Miller: Yeah. But in a lot of ways, what you just described, conducting podcasts, going and speaking at schools, all the parties, it was really a fulltime job.

Tracy Levinson: Oh, yeah. There’s that too.

Catherine Miller: There is that too. It was a fulltime job and for a lot of people, they don’t have that luxury. A lot of people have a fulltime job and creating this book and getting the book launched is enough. I mean it’s hard to then to even step into it because – but in a lot of ways, that’s when the real work begins. The real work is after the book is finished and after the book is published and you must really ask yourself. “Am I ready for this? Am I in the place where I can really invest in the time in executing this book?”

If someone has a fulltime job and they’re executing a book, what’s your recommendation of two or three things as priorities to launch their book?

Tracy Levinson: Be willing to hire people to help you. So, if you’re going to self-publish – so like I have my little – I call them my minions, my little millennials that helped me. So, go ahead and decide how much you’re willing to source out, so you don’t have to do all that yourself. Even the Instagram posts or depending on your audience. Where do they live? The other is an agent can help you. Like a lot of the minutia that I had to go through with Amazon, if I had a – and even with working with my graphic designer. If you have a publisher, they will do all of that. They still expect you to do all the marketing.

Catherine Miller: Yes.

Tracy Levinson: They do it, and there are places that are easier if you have an agent. There are hybrids in-between where you pay someone where they still do all that stuff for you. But I think that you have to ask yourself, “Do you have this fantasy of writing a book or do you want to take on what we just described?”

Catherine Miller: Right.

Tracy Levinson: Because there’s another way you can publish a book. If there’s something in your heart and you think you can help people and you want to have this resource, but you don’t want to lose two years of your life – because I feel like I look like the president now. That’s my joke. I feel like, “Have I aged?” But – you can take, do an ebook and ebooks do well and here’s the deal with ebooks. You really don’t have to spend very much money to create an ebook. If an ebook does well – like let’s say you write a book on business and it does well. A publisher will pay attention to you if it does well.

So, if you want to put your toe in the water, try an ebook. And the cool thing about an ebook is like let’s say a year after you write it, you want to update it, piece of cake.

Catherine Miller: It’s easy. Yeah.

Tracy Levinson: I think that if you want to get your toes in the water and you don’t want to lose your life, that is a good way to start.

Catherine Miller: But you still have to have the launch, or you still have to market and push the book. It’s not going to be found just because it’s an ebook.

Tracy Levinson: Depending on your platform because some people – like some of your business leaders that watch this probably have some platforms where they speak in front of large groups and it could be a topic that they speak on and they’re like, “Hey, you guys can download,” and it’s like for $3 you can download my book.

It’s pretty good passive income. I will tell you that the margins on ebooks are greater than a hard copy.

Catherine Miller: Right, right. Well, Tracy, I could probably sit here and visit with you for about three more hours and still not contain really all that it took you to launch the book. But I think it’s so cool that you discovered the system, figured out the puzzle and attacked it because I think the great news is the book itself and your ability to speak has touched and changed a lot of lives and has helped a lot of people and ultimately I know that’s what you were looking to do with your book. So, thank you. I really appreciate you coming today. If someone wants to find your book, how would they do that?

Tracy Levinson: It’s called Unashamed and it’s on Amazon and my name is Tracy Levinson or they can go to my website which is www.TracyLevinson.com.

Catherine Miller: Thank you. Thank you for being here today. I really enjoyed it.

Tracy Levinson: It was so fun.

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