Using Discounts to Promote Your Nonfiction Book

Part 1 of 2, access part 2 here. Anne Janzer

Guest post by Anne Janzer

Anne Janzer is an award-winning author on a mission to help writers communicate more effectively. As a professional writer and marketer, she has worked with more than 100 technology companies. She is the author of The Writer’s Process, The Workplace Writer’s Process, Subscription Marketing, and Writing to Be Understood. 

For one glorious week in April 2019, my book The Writer’s Process was hanging out in its Amazon categories alongside books that I love and admire: Stephen King’s On Writing, WIliams Zinsser’s On Writing Well, and even the Chicago Manual of Style!

Those were heady days for a nonfiction writing geek like myself.

My little book had its moment in the sun as a happy side effect of a week-long discounted book promotion. (You’ll notice that the price was $0.99.)

Much of the book promotion advice on the web is for fiction authors. As you well know, things work differently for us nonfiction types.

In this two-part blog series, I’ll share with you my general approach and offer advice for trying it with your own books.

In this first post, we’ll cover the three elements you’ll need to plan for your promotion.

Discount Book Promotion Basics

At its most basic, the strategy I’m using is this:

  1. Discount the ebook significantly for a fixed period of time
  2. Promote the discount to potential buyers of the book

That sounds simple. In practice, it’s a little trickier. I’ve been experimenting with occasional discounts for some time, with varying results.

 A note about free: This post doesn’t describe free book promotions. Although popular with series fiction and with books in Kindle Unlimited, I haven’t found the case in which an entirely free book promotion makes sense for my books. It might for yours, though—particularly if you have a series of books and want to hook people in to the first one. But in this post, we’re going to talk about paid promotions.

These are the decisions you need to make:

  • The duration of the sale (how long it will last)
  • The discounted price (how low you will go)
  • The promotion plan (how the right people will find the discounted book)

Let’s tackle each of these issues separately.

The Sale Duration

Unless you plan to discount your book permanently (and that’s usually not a great idea), define a fixed timeframe for the sale.

Having an end date adds urgency when you promote the sale. Telling people “the price resets tomorrow!” often spurs them to action.

But if you want to make a difference on your Amazon sales rank, you need several days of elevated sales.

I find that a week is short enough to create urgency, but long enough to catch Amazon’s attention if it goes well. If you can time your sale to an event or a holiday, it will make the book promotion easier.

The Discounted Price Point

Several factors affect your pricing decision:

  • What’s the book’s usual price? If it’s normally $9.99, then $2.99 looks like a decent discount. If it’s normally $3.99, you’ll want to drop lower.
  • What do other books in your genre do? Look at the best sellers in all of your book’s categories and see what kinds of discounts the books in the top 10 are offering.

You’ll also need to understand the royalty your book earns at the discounted price. (Don’t fixate too much on the royalty, however, because a lower price moves a lot more books.)

The answer to this will depend on several factors, including whether your book is in Kindle Unlimited (so you can use a Countdown Deal), and the size of your book’s delivery fee.

Kindle Unlimited: For those of you who do not know about it, Kindle Unlimited is a program you can join if your ebook is exclusive to Amazon. Once in the program, you can run a discounted sale once a quarter (a Countdown Deal), and set the price quite low, while keeping your 70% royalty.

If you’re not in Kindle Unlimited and set the price below $2.99, the royalty drops from 70% to 35%.

So, a 99-cent book in Kindle Unlimited generates 70 cents in royalties. A 99-cent book not in Kindle Unlimited generates 35 cents in royalties. That’s a big difference; you’ll need to move many more books at the lower price to make an impact.

Delivery fee: This is a fee Kindle charges according to the size of your book, which can seriously eat into your royalties. It only applies to books in the 70% royalty rate, though, so only if you’re doing a Kindle Countdown Deal.

Once I helped a memoir author do a Kindle Countdown deal, without first checking the delivery fee. His book had many photos, so the fee was significant and he didn’t achieve anything near the 70% royalty rate. We learned that lesson the hard way.

To find your delivery fee, visit your KDP bookshelf and choose Edit Ebook Pricing from the menu. Look for the Delivery column.

My advice: A price of $0.99 seems to create the least possible friction to a sale. It may seem painful to give up those royalties, but you’ll move a lot more books.

Getting People To the Sale

The bigger question you face is this: How are you going to drive the right traffic to the book?

The easiest, fastest way is to drive traffic is to sign up with a book promotion site. These sites charge a fee to send the news about your book’s sale to their subscribers.

The big name in book promotion sites is BookBub. If you can get a BookBub deal for your category, jump on it. But they’re hard to get.

Unfortunately, most promotion sites are focused on fiction. Even the biggies, like BookBub, have smaller lists (and fewer categories) for nonfiction. If the only nonfiction category is “General Nonfiction,” you won’t be reaching a focused audience.

Reedsy, which has a list of reputable book promotion sites, is a good place to start.

There are other ways to send people to your sale:

  • Running ads: I’ve had some success advertising on BookBub. (See Three Reasons to Experiment with BookBub Ads.) Other authors love Facebook. The more focused you can make these ads, the better off you’ll be, because you should pay less and attract an audience that purchases more.
  • Emails: If you have an email list, send them news of the sale. Ask them to share it. Maybe ask other people to share your sale with their lists.
  • Social media posts: Promote your book’s sale on social media. How well this works will depend on your platform and your audience.

My advice: Spend some time planning the promotion part. Get creative—consider asking companion authors to share the promotion to their email lists, for example.

Those are the nuts and bolts of planning. In the next post, we’ll look at setting expectations and measuring the success of your book sale campaign.

Access part 2 here.

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