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The Art of the Amazon Sale: Improving Rankings, Selling More Books, and Gaining Exposure

| Posted in Advertising, Amazon Kindle Sales, Book Marketing |

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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):

Book-1-freebie-bookbub-sale

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!

Results

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.

 

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Comments (24)

Fabulous info, thank you! Do you also sell print copies, and do those sales increase too when you run ads like this? Thanks, Lindsay!

I do have paperbacks of all the novels. I don’t pay much attention to the sales though, as they’re fairly inconsequential compared to the ebooks sales. I charge about the lowest I can get away with, so don’t make a lot. It’s usually folks who have read the whole series as ebooks and who want some signed copies for the bookshelf. ;)

Great, thank you for sharing that. I’ve heard the same from other authors, and it helps me make the decision to wait a little longer before putting in the time for creating print versions of my novels. Cheers!

Talking about promoting novels makes me curious. Do you ever promote your short stories? Are there venues for promoting them at all? I haven’t heard of any, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything….

I don’t, Laura. I’m not aware of many sites that will promote them (Bookbub specifically says novels only). I know I’ve run Flash Gold a time or two on other sites in the past, but I don’t know if those sites still take shorter works. The Fussy Librarian says they take shorter works (in the interview I did with the owner last week), but I haven’t tried submitting one yet.

Oh, right! Maybe that’s why it was on my mind. Hah. Thanks!

This was pleasantly fortuitous to read, because I was planning to do the exact same thing at the end of the month.

I lucked out and got a BookBub spot for my free book CHILD OF THE GHOSTS on Thanksgiving Day. Since there are eight books in the series (and a ninth coming in January), I figured it will not hurt to try the second book, GHOST IN THE FLAMES, for $0.99 for a week or two.

Thanks for posting this. The excellent idea of changing the book description for the sale via Author Central had not occured to me!

You’re welcome, Jonathan. I hadn’t changed the blurbs before, and it made a big difference this time. Good luck with your own sale!

Lindsay, I know you don’t do Select, but I still hope you’ll opine about the new Countdown Deals.

From what I’ve seen, it looks like a convenient way to run sales, and it’d certainly be cool to be able to earn 70% royalties on a 99 cent title.

I had a Kindle Fire Department ad the same day as you and didn’t get nearly as many downloads. Was it just me or were books moving at a snail’s pace that day on the free charts?

I did a BookBlast ad on the same book the day before, and so this KFD ad didn’t give me as much love. With both of them combined, however, I got just under 1,000 downloads. Usually it takes me a month to get that so I was happy. And it also takes awhile for the book to sink down the charts again.

Yup, not many perform like Bookbub, but some of the 2nd tier guys can still make a difference, especially if you can stack them and get a few plugs in the same week.

I love hearing about your successes. I have a question. When did you make EE1 free? Was the series finished before you did this or did you just have a couple books out? I have six books out in my novella series and there will be twelve total. I will gladly give the first one away for free (they only sell for 99 cents because they are short) but was wondering when a good time to do that would be. Thanks for the great posts. My nanowrimo book is going strong. I’m at 35,000 words and plan to hit 50,000 this weekend.

Congratulations on your NaNoWriMo success, Jennifer. :)

I only had three books out in my series when I made the first one free. You could try that for a while and try some boxed sets down the road too. Those can do really well with sales.

I missed a sale on books 2 and 3? I’m so sad now. I have a small credit on Amazon, but not enough to buy the books full priced even though I’d love to read them. I guess I’ll watch in case you do it again, and hope I catch it next time.

Hi Sarah,

I’ll probably do a 99-cent sale on the Book 1-3 omnibus after the holidays, so that would be an even better deal. :) Thanks for reading!

Thanks so much for sharing this. This is the third time in one day I’ve read about someone’s experience with bookbub, strange coincidence. Will difinitely be coming back to this later when it’s time to run sales on my nvoel

This is fantastic. Such great information. I never thought of running a Bookbub for a perma-free.

I wonder if some of your sales came because of the words “2013 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee.” Street cred is so important, you know. ;-) It sometimes convinces people who are on the fence to give it a try.

Congrats on the great weekend!

Hi Lindsay,
Thanks for reporting on this. Adding the info about your other books in the blurb is a great idea, one I hadn’t thought of. I just did a BookBub promo for a 99 cent sale for one of my books followed by an Amazon Countdown Deal for another, combined with a Kindle Books and Tips ad. Results weren’t stellar but I more than broke even and have been seeing around 5 sales per day of my books since (where about one a day was the norm before). Fingers crossed that this keeps up for a while and that some good reviews come in as well. I’ll definitely use the blurb idea next time I do a combined sale. Thanks again for posting on this.

Great article. I’m about to launch my first book, so this is particularly timely for me. Thanks for all of the details. I always find it helpful to see exactly how someone else approached something.

[…] The Art Of The Amazon Sale […]

It looks like a convenient way to run sales and I think this will work in improving the sales too.

Lindsay, I downloaded EE1 and enjoyed the story even though this genre is outside my usual comfort zone, so we might say your sale worked on me. Your method strikes me as basic good sense, and it parallels Amazon’s own Kindle Countdown Deal, from which those not in SELECT are excluded. I’d like to try this for my own mystery novel, Sunset over Salhouse Broad, but I wonder if it has occurred to you that it is against Amazon’s current rules to put pricing, availability or time-sensitive information into the product description area. I presume this is one of the clubs with which Amazon beats us over the head to force us into SELECT, and therefore into exclusivity. Running a personal limited time offer circumvents this, though we take a hit on our royalty by comparison. You obviously got away with it, but I wonder if Amazon will clamp down if lots of authors run what amounts to their own non-Amazon countdown deal.

Have you (or anyone) any views on this, please? Is anyone else brave enough to spit in Amazon’s eye and come out fighting (apart from Sicarious and Amaranthe, that is)?

Here is the link to Amazon’s rules: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A36BYK5S7AJ2NQ#3-1_What_are_the_guidelines_for_product

You get to it normally via the help tab on your KDP dashboard page.

And for convenience here is the relevant wording (January 2014):
“The inclusion of any of the following information in detail page titles, descriptions, bullet points, or images is prohibited: … Availability, price, … Reviews, quotes or testimonials, … Advertisements, … promotional material. … Time-sensitive information.” I would guess the date when the price will return to normal might count as Time Sensitive Information.

Though we hear occasional rumours of authors being summarily evicted from Amazon, anyone who pays attention will be aware that some of Amazon’s prohibitions are in fact widely flouted without apparently bringing down the wrath of the Emperor of eBook on our heads. Any thoughts?

PS In case Amazon are listening, despite my turn of phrase nothing in this comment should be interpreted as criticism of Amazon. I love ‘em really.

Heya Charlies,

“Reviews, quotes or testimonials” You’d be hard-pressed to find books in the Kindle store *without* these things. :D

I haven’t heard of Amazon cracking down on anything like this or on running sales. From the list, it looks like including price would be the only possible issue, and I’d guess that’s more about them not wanting a different price in the product description than is listed above, something that could easily happen with paperbacks but is unlikely to happen with KDP ebooks. This seems like the kind of thing they’d warn you about, too, before taking more drastic action. I’m not worried about it, but you could probably get around it by saying two dollars off or some such instead of listing a price.

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