Like Icarus Taking a Selfie — Observations from a Discount eBook Promotion by James R. Wells

Paperback Writer by the Beatles

Paperback Writer – Lyrics by the Beatles

If you’re an author, perhaps you’ve been here: I had finished my novel The Great Symmetry, done a print run for local bookstores and my website, and had sold some copies. Reviews were encouraging. The wider world beckoned. But how to launch? My Kindle edition was selling a copy every few days on Amazon – not exactly conquering the world.

This post is about my first discount eBook promotion. This discount promotion was a huge learning experience for me!

It turned out well with 600 sales over a 13-day period, due to working through some mistakes and some lucky accidents as well. The great news for everyone is that you can read about all my errors, as well as a few moments when this blind chicken happened upon a grain of corn, to help you plan for your successful promotion.

As I was looking around for ideas, I read an enthusiastic post on KBoards from an author who had just done a discount promotion for her new book. She had signed up for several advertisers at a small cost such as $10 each, and had realized a nice collection of sales over several days.

From this and other posts, I pieced together the concept: Discount your book from its regular price, then each advertiser sends out an email to their list of subscribers.

Here’s the key: The subscribers on each list have specifically signed up to be notified about discounted eBooks. How great is that? You can advertise your book to people who actually want to hear about it. In order for this to work, you need a real regular price that’s $2.99 or higher, so you’re offering an authentic discount.

I figured I could do a promotion too, so I shot off some applications to advertise for dates a couple of weeks ahead. When got my first acceptance from an advertiser (yes they get to choose the books they want to promote), I was thrilled and promptly paid. I was committed. Shortly after, I realized my first mistake – lack of advance planning. The best advertisers require four or more weeks of advance notice, and I had set my promotion dates far too soon.

Now you know: Plan your promotion in advance, and apply to advertisers four weeks or more before your planned dates.

The scramble was on. I sent in applications for the empty days, and after some anxious days was able to put together a lineup of promotions for each day except one. As I waited for the first day of the promotion, I found out more.

Here’s another key point: When you do a discount promotion, the purpose is not to make money – it’s to increase your readership. At a price of $0.99, your commission goes down to 35%, and it takes a lot of sales to cover your advertising costs and then have enough to buy a beer at the end. I set modest goals: Get some new readers, a few reviews, and a “tail” of sales after the promotion is over.

Discount Promotion Steps

  1. Get everything ready: cover, blurb, reviews
  2. Set a regular price: $2.99 or more
  3. Decide your promo period, usually 1-2 weeks duration
  4. Apply to advertisers for spots
  5. Commit, pay, set advertising dates
  6. Set your price to $0.99, a full day before start
  7. Step away from the computer!
  8. After the promo: analyze what worked or not –

As the promotion started, I learned the next hard lesson. Your blurb needs to not suck. My blurb had loads of fascinating information, none of which screamed out to a potential reader that they needed to buy this book. The results on the first day of the promotion reflected this.

After some frantic consultation with other authors, I refined the blurb twice over the next few days in accordance with a key principle: Don’t explain your book. Just find the most enticing few sentences that clearly convey your genre and the idea that it’s a compelling story. Imagine that a person will only read the first few lines before deciding whether to read further, or just skip along to the next book. As soon as I posted my blurb revisions, sales picked up.

When it came to reviews, I lucked out. I had some good reviews from my paperback version before launching on KDP. This really helped. Make sure you have those precious first reviews!

With the blurb revised, there was nothing else to do except watch. Better still: don’t watch. Because refreshing the screen on your KDP sales dashboard every minute is pretty much the dumbest way you can spend your day.

james wellsPro tip: Find a way to be off your computer most of the time during your promotion. You can ask friends to stage an intervention. Some authors provide their passwords to a trusted friend with instructions to change the passwords and provide only a daily summary.

In the matter of staying away, I failed completely. That’s me above. Next time I’m going to make plans to be in a cave or something.

Yep – next time. I realized that as long as I’m an author with books available for sale, it’s going to be worth doing promotions periodically, probably several times a year.

james wellls chartAnd not just for the tangible results. I took a screen capture of that moment at #15 on the bestseller list for Hard Science Fiction, like Icarus taking a selfie before the inevitable plummet Earthward, to remind myself that I can do this. I belong on that list, and I’ll be back.

A discount eBook promotion is an important tool for building your initial readership. But it’s just part of the picture. Promote what you have, while not losing sight of what matters most – your next book. Keep writing! 

Editor’s Note: 

We want to thank James R. Wells for sharing his experience and findings with the Chanticleer Community of Authors

James R. Wells writes about the intersection of humans and the natural world. A life-long caver and outdoor adventurer, he has explored and mapped new passages in many of North America’s great caves. When not writing or with family, James can be found in a cave, on a mountain, or anywhere else outside.

James has recently published The Great Symmetry. His work “echoes the timeless social messages of truth, freedom and sacrifice embraced by science fiction greats like Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and the author’s own great grandfather H. G. Wells. Its powerful premise gives voice to the perils and challenges of our current society and reminds the reader that even the smallest person can change the world. A great read!”

Click here to read the full review.