Discounting Your Book: Defining Success

Part 2 of 2 access part 1 here. Anne Janzer

Guest post by Anne Janzer

If you want to goose your nonfiction book’s sales, consider borrowing a tactic from the fiction authors: put it on sale at a steeply discounted price, for a short period of time. In the first post in this series, we talked about the basics of running a discounted book promotion.

In this post, we’ll talk about setting expectations, running the promotion, and then measuring, and learning from, your results.

Set Your Expectations

Your promotion’s performance depends, in great part, on how you define success.

Simply “selling more books” is a vague goal.

Here’s a list of other, achievable reasons for putting your book on sale:

  • Getting the book into more people’s hands so you can make progress toward a “critical mass” of readers (1,000 readers, for example)
  • Getting the book into the right readers’ hands (through targeted promotions or advertising)
  • Boosting the book’s Amazon rank ahead of an event at which you are speaking
  • Supporting a book launch (for a new book)
  • Testing different ads or author targeting

Here’s my favorite objective for a discount campaign: learning. These are a few things you can learn from a 99-cent sale if you approach it as an experiment:

  • Which book promotion sites effectively reach your audience
  • How many of the people on your email list will respond to an email offer to buy your book on sale
  • Which advertisements attract your audience
  • Whether your book page does a good job of converting those people into sales

What about becoming a bestseller? Or selling thousands of books? Or making truckloads of money?

Those goals are harder to achieve, because you cannot control all the variables, such as

–       How competitive your book’s categories are

–       Who else in your category is running sales during your sale

–       Strange things Amazon may be doing behind the scenes

–       General market timing that you may not have insight into

For example, I’ve run promotions that happened to coincide with another author in my category (with a huge following) putting their book on sale. My book never stood a chance of reaching number one. You can’t control what else is happening on Amazon during your sale.

Understand the Economics

In book promotions, as other things, you often have to spend time and/or money to see results that earn money. If this is your first promotion, however, you might start small. (Unless you land a BookBub, which requires a large upfront investment, but usually pays off.)

Set a budget for this adventure. Ideally, you’ll earn it back in royalties, although, with Kindle’s delayed payment, you won’t see that royalty money for a few months. Consider it an investment in learning.

  • If using book promotion sites: how much are you willing to spend on each promotion?
  • Advertising: how much will you spend on ads?
  • Performance: can you afford this if you only earn back half of the investment in royalties down the road?
  • Time: how much time are you willing to spend drafting emails or social media posts?

Given that budget, plan and execute the campaign. I use a spreadsheet to track my critical tasks and deadlines. Depending on the campaign, the list of tasks may include the following:

  • Draft and schedule emails to my list
  • Submit the book to any book promotion sites I plan to use at least 2 weeks in advance
  • Create and schedule ads
  • Create and schedule social media posts
  • Set the price down on the ebook platforms. If you’re on Kindle Unlimited, schedule a Countdown Deal in advance. Otherwise, go to the KDP book page and reset the price a day ahead of the planned sale.
  • Reset the price at the end of the sale

Even if you only do a subset of these tasks, staying organized is important.

Then track the campaign as it happens. For a week, you may be checking your sales data compulsively. Try not to fixate on it.

When the campaign is done, see what you’ve learned.

Assessing the Campaign’s Performance

If you’re doing this as an experimental process, you’ll want to figure out how your promotion did. Open up a spreadsheet and tally up the following:

  • Everything you spent (advertising costs, book promotion sites, etc.)
  • How many discounted books sold (from the KDP dashboard and other sources if your book is sold “wide”)
  • Royalties earned from sales: estimated royalties x books sold

This gives you a rough idea of how your promotion did. Did you earn more than you spent? Did you break even?

The real magic of promotions happens after the book resets to full price. Your sales may remain elevated after the sale ends, delivering your full-price royalties.

If the week after the promotion Amazon sells an extra 30 ebooks more than average, and your full-price ebook royalty is $3.00, that’s $90 you can attribute to the campaign. So keep paying attention for a few weeks.

Putting It All Together

Remember that book sale that put my book next to Stephen King’s book?

Here’s what I did with that campaign:

  • Discounted the ebook to 99 cents for one week (and a comparable price in international markets and currencies)
  • Pitched the book through three different promotion sites, three days in a row. At $212, an “international-only” BookBub deal consumed most of my promotion budget
  • Ran a series of BookBub ads targeting readers of specific, individual authors
  • Sent emails to my list
  • Ran a few social media posts

Here’s the resulting data:

Cost: $470 ($287 in promotion sites, $183 in BookBub ads)

Books sold: 1,219 (1,081 on Amazon, 138 on other ebook platforms)

Total royalties: $468.12 (royalties on non-Amazon books were slightly higher)

That’s pretty close to break-even: $470 spent for $468 returned. That doesn’t count extra sales after the discount ended.

But the campaign returned more than royalties, including

  • Detailed BookBub ad performance data specific to my book—information I cannot buy from anyone
  • Experience with different book promotion sites
  • That wonderful week with the best seller tag

So, while financially it was a break-even event, in the larger context, it was a resounding success.

Here’s my advice, if you’re interested in experimenting with discounting prices:

Start with a small budget you are willing to invest in your book’s future. Approach these sales with an experimental, learning mindset and you won’t be disappointed.

Focus on how you’re going to get the right people to the book. Don’t be afraid to set the price pretty low, even if it feels like you’re “giving away” royalties.

Most of all, remember that discounts and promotions are the seasoning on your book marketing strategy, not the main course. I’d suggest running discounts at most twice a year for your book, and always with clear objectives.

Have you downloaded our free reports for authors yet? We offer tons of helpful advice on writing, publishing, and promoting nonfiction books!