A Cure to Die For: An Unexpected Ebook Success

Aug 16, 2011

As a result of several email ads, a free download offer and some unforeseen occurrences, self-published, first time author Stephen Mitchell and his distributor Greenleaf Book Group struck gold last month when the medical thriller A Cure to Die For was downloaded 36,431 times on Amazon in just 6 days.

As of Aug. 1, the book had been downloaded 41,000 times in 1 month. Around 4,600 of those were paid downloads that came after an initial free offering in early July (the ebook is now $7.99 on Amazon).

A Cure to Die For is a medical thriller with "an extremely exciting story with a whole cast of irresistible characters," according to Mitchell. It's a book about a wonder drug, a miracle cure and a conspiracy to destroy it.

"This is a remarkable and almost unheard of number of sales in a little over a month for a debut novel coming from total obscurity ..." says Mitchell.

Mitchell, 61, recently detailed his path to becoming a publishing phenomenon. "I learned that Amazon offers free Kindle ebook downloads every day—a ton of them," recalls Mitchell. "... but how do you let people know to go there and download your book? Nobody was promoting this; it's like hanging a bunch of hundred dollar bills in the tree but nobody tells you where to go pick them."

Mitchell wanted to offer a free download of his own, tell people where to get it, and generate some buzz by requesting reviews. He says he had a "really passionate desire to generate as many reviews of my book ... as quickly as possible." That is because consumers, Mitchell says, no longer trust conventional advertising—they trust other buyers. "Reviews are priceless, in my opinion, if you can get them to say something nice about you," he says.

So he paid somebody to collect email addresses—over 900 were amassed—of Amazon fiction reviewers and sent them an email ad that was a "review request" that offered a free download on Amazon on July 1.

"With the help of a marvelous internet-savvy lady in Wisconsin named Laura Schuster I created a couple of killer email ads," says Mitchell. The email flyer, which featured a synopsis of the novel and an image of its cover, was sent out two weeks before the July 1 release and went out again the next week. It was due to be emailed a third time July 1 but things—fortunately—went awry.

"Then some amazing coincidences happened—or amazing accidents that all converged to create a very wonderful and magical thing," reflects Mitchell. This included an associate of his failing to send out the email ad on time on July 1 and Amazon failing to list the book for free that day.

In an effort to make amends, Amazon said it would leave the free download up for the entire July 4 weekend. In addition, the July 1 email ad was sent out by 1 p.m. to the list of Amazon reviewers. And from there, the book skyrocketed. "This shot my novel to the top of the ebook bestseller list [on Amazon] where everybody could see it and it stayed there at No. 2 on the list for the entire July 4th weekend!" says Mitchell.

The novel became Greenleaf's best selling title in just a month and Amazon began featuring it in promotional emails at no charge to Mitchell. He, along with his associates, stayed aggressive in their email marketing efforts, purchasing 2 million email addresses from a database service that Schuster found. As a result, another mass email ad went out the last 3 weeks of July and this one featured glowing reviews.

This month, a new email ad will go out to 10 million "lovers of books and ebooks," says Mitchell. "Laura is tireless in her pursuit of perfecting this cutting-edge marketing. ..."

The fact that A Cure to Die For was a fiction piece by a first time author could have been a detriment, observed Mitchell's publicist Marissa Eigenbrood. "Those are things that can play against someone in the book world," but Mitchell found success "through those unique efforts," she says.

Mitchell lives in Helena, MT with his wife Beverly. He has worked as a sales trainer, Wall Street trader, builder/developer/contractor, skier, sailor, and cowboy. But Mitchell always wanted to write a novel. He injured his back and that forced him to take it easy—giving him time to pen his book in 2010.

Mitchell is currently working on a new novel and said he "absolutely" will employ similar marketing methods when it's ready to be published in about 6 months.