I’m not a master marketer. I never hand someone a business card unless they ask, I rarely plug my titles on Twitter and Facebook, and if I had to sell my books face-to-face I doubt I’d have moved more than ten copies in the last three years. But with Amazon, if you can figure out how to sell moderately well, the company’s algorithms tend to reward you by promoting your books beyond what you could have done on your own (via Top 100 lists, also-boughts, and emails to readers who might be interested in your title). It’s worth it to tinker around over there and try to make things happen, even with a series where you’ve long since released the last book, and sales have started dwindling (especially with such a series).
Running sales is a way to create interest in your books among new readers, so long as you’re willing to do a little promotion (which may be as simple as buying an advertisement) in concurrence with these temporary price drops. I personally haven’t seen much of a sales difference from simply dropping the price without making announcements and increasing my promotional efforts.
How I ran my last sale
For my latest promotion (just a few days ago), I took out a Bookbub ad to plug the first book in my Emperor’s Edge series, which has been free for the last couple of years. It’s hard to run a “sale” on a book that’s already free (more on the true sale coming up), but any time you can increase the visibility of a perma-free title, it’s an opportunity to get more people into your world, and that’s a good thing.
That said, I had run a Bookbub ad on EE1 before, and I wasn’t sure how many downloads it would get this time around. I hoped at least some people on the company’s fantasy list would be new, and I thought it might still get a couple thousand, enough to bring it back up to #1 in free fantasy for the day, something that would give it some new visibility at Amazon for readers who hadn’t chanced across me before.
To make this a true sale, I decided to also drop the price of my second and third books to 99 cents for the weekend (the Bookbub ad ran on the 7th, and I left the other books at 99 cents until the 10th). 35 cents (what you make on a 99-cent ebook sale) per copy is kind of meh, but since I have seven books total in that series, I figured I could still do well if readers got into the series and went on to buy the others (my regular price is $4.95 for each novel, earning me $3 and change per sale). Also, I thought that by pricing Books 2 and 3 at 99 cents — for a limited time — some folks grabbing the freebie might pick up those on the same day, rather than waiting to read Book 1 first. With three of my books on their kindles, I also reasoned that they’d get around to trying my series sooner rather than later (one wonders when and if freebies will get tried when they’re downloaded by Bookbub readers, because those guys get free book offers every day).
I made sure to announce that Books 2 & 3 were on sale in the blurb area for Book 1, the book that everyone was popping in to check out. Here’s a screenshot of what that looked like (click for a bigger picture):
In the blurbs for Books 2 and 3, I also announced that the novels were on sale, making sure to point out that the regular price was $4.95 and that the sale would end in a couple of days. I’m never sure how many sales tricks I want to use to tweak the copy (I have an aversion to used-car-salesman tactics), but I’ve read various marketing studies that show people are more likely to act (buy) when there’s a chance they might lose something than when there’s a chance they might gain something. So I tried to emphasize that with the words “don’t miss out” and “for a limited time.” I’m sure lots of people see through those gimmicks, but, hey, you never know!
I’ve been at the top of the fantasy charts before (with new releases) and have never taken off in a huge way, so I didn’t expect that this time, but I did well overall with the sale and more than recouped my money on the $90 ad (advertising a free ebook on Bookbub is the least expensive way to go — their sliding scale means it costs more, and in some genres a lot more, for books discounted to 99 cents or $2+).
On the day the ad ran, The Emperor’s Edge was downloaded about 6500 times (remember, I’ve advertised to this list before so you might very well get more downloads for a new fantasy freebie), enough to get it in the Top 20 free overall and enough to keep it at #1 in the epic fantasy free category until Sunday morning (the ad ran on Thursday). As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, it’s still at #3 in epic fantasy and 255 overall. It’s now been downloaded about 10,000 times since Thursday morning. (It had only been downloaded about 200 times in the week prior, November 1st to November 6th).
Before running the ad, I was selling less than 10 copies a day each of Books 2 and 3 in the Amazon US store, and each had 50-odd sales at the time of the ad (books at full price). Between the 7th and the 10th (the days of my sale), both titles sold more than 550 copies each, and both jumped into the Top 20 of the epic fantasy paid listings for about three days (these are books that had been out for two years and that hadn’t been anywhere near the Top 100 in quite some time). About half of those sales came on Day 1 of the ad and were probably Bookbub people, but I’m guessing about half of them simply came from people who saw the 99-cent books in the charts (or who saw EE1 at the top of the free chart) and decided to give them a try because of the low price.
So, have I made a ton of money? Well, not really, since I only get 35 cents per sale on those 99 cent books, but I made about $400 minus the $200 or so those books would have made if they simply sold their average number of copies per day at full price and minus the $90 for the ad. So, I came out ahead by about $110 for the weekend.
And, of course, there are the less tangible benefits:
- I’m already seeing an uptick in sales in the later (full-priced) books in the series, and expect that trend will continue for the next month or so, as people get through the first three books and decide to go on.
- More readers are checking me out right now (sometimes the pure math doesn’t look that good with these 99-cent titles, but when it comes with an increase in sales — more people trying your books — it may mean that you gain more long-term fans who will stick with you for future books).
This is the first time I’ve run sales on following books at the same time as advertising my perma-free title, and it’s something I’ll definitely do again. This way I got to break even on Day 1 rather than hoping people who picked up the freebie would eventually try the other books in the series. I also got to spend less on the ad than I would have to promote a 99-cent title.
I should point out that on Barnes & Noble, where I couldn’t change the blurb text on the free book (because it’s free via Smashwords, and it would have taken too long for the update to filter through), I only sold about 25 extra copies each of the 99 cent titles over the weekend.
But what if I can’t get into Bookbub?
I know, I know, everyone loves Bookbub because it makes it much easier to run an effective sale on Amazon, but for those who can’t get in (they’ve gotten picky about what they accept) or who don’t have the money to buy one of their slots, you can also opt for less expensive advertising sites (here’s a KBoards link where someone listed a bunch of sites that accept freebie/bargain books) or just plan do a bunch of extra legwork on the social media sites during your sale.
A lot of authors are going in together right now (i.e. ten people selling ten thrillers for 99 cents), so it’s a group effort for promotion. This lets you reach a lot more people with less individual work. Some people with series are even putting their Book 1s together into box sets to sell on Amazon for 99 cents, so readers get a great deal and can try a number of new authors at a time.
Just remember that you will probably need to do more than drop your book to 99 cents (or whatever your sale price is) to increase your numbers.
Lastly, don’t forget to change your blurb to let people know that the book is on sale until Date X and what the regular price is (for those in KDP Select, you can make things easier by using Amazon’s new Kindle Countdown Deals). You’ll probably want to change the blurbs via Author Central rather than the KDP dashboard, as you can add bold, italics, and bullet lists that way.
That’s it from me. If you’ve run your own sales and had good results (or even if things didn’t work out as you’d hoped), we’d love to hear about it. Please comment below.