By Ron Glick
Indie authors have to make a lot of decisions when it comes to marketing books. New tools come out frequently. Ron Glick, author of 12 books, weighs in on his experience using Amazon’s Kindle Countdown. Read on for some great insights. Also check out his latest novel, Dorothy Through the Looking Glass.
Being an independent or self-published author usually means you are literally responsible for every aspect of producing and marketing your book. Things that a writer can rely upon through a traditional publishing house – such as marketing, media contacts, professional reviewers, etc. – are not readily available to an independent, which means an independent must work considerably harder to market their work. The key to any successful independent author is marketing, and anyone who has been where I have been with self-promotion, you know there is no readily available network to plug into to get instant recognition of your work. In a nutshell, marketing is everything.
Personally, I have spent the better part of three years working on creating my market brand, and I still only sell a handful of books every month. I presently have five novels and seven trivia books that I market, and I am always on the look out for new ways to promote them.
This is why when Amazon announced their new program, Kindle Countdown Deals (KCD), I was willing to give the program a try. On the surface, the program seems very sharp – for up to seven days out of a ninety day period, an author can lower the price of his or her Kindle Direct Published (KDP) book as low as 99 cents, while still keeping the higher price point royalty share (for those not aware of Amazon’s KDP royalty percentage, typically anything between 99 cents and $2.98 earns 35% in royalty, while $2.99 to $9.99 earns 70%). Then, on a gradual scale, the author can have the book rise in increments of $1.00 over a selected period. Amazon also promised to promote books enlisted in the program separately, essentially committing to provide an extra level of marketing for sales.
With all of this on the table, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to gain more visibility for my books. Even with the lower price point, the extra level of marketing would be well worth it. Amazon’s other promotion – the Kindle Free Book Download – is an option for an author to make his or her book available up to 5 days over a ninety day period and these free downloads had provided short bursts of sales awareness for me in the past – averaging usually several hundred downloads whenever I offered a book up for free.
There were differences, of course. For example, the Kindle Free Book Download program was available worldwide, while KCD was only open to America and Great Britain. Yet the way I looked at it, I received nothing for a free download on a worldwide basis, but had an opportunity to earn a small amount for the greatly discounted books solicited in the U.S. and U.K. Conceivably, I would receive the same market awareness that the free downloads received in these regions – and if even one in ten people downloaded a 99 cent book versus a free one, this would be a successful campaign.
At the time KCD was announced in November, 2013, I had four novels released (my fifth book was released January 1, 2014) and decided that I would use the month of November to promote each of my books, one per week. I began with The Wizard In Wonderland (Oz-Wonderland, Book 1) on November 7, followed by One (Godslayer Cycle, Book 1) on November 14, then with Tarinel’s Song (Chaos Rising, Book 1) on November 21, and finally with Two (Godslayer Cycle, Book 2) on November 28. As is standard for my promotions, I marketed each of these on Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook and through roughly a dozen sites that listed discount Kindle books. With the Kindle Free Book Downloads, this formula had been reasonably successful in supplementing Amazon’s own marketing, and I had no reason to believe it would not create an impact for KCD.
I am sorry to say, I was greatly disappointed.
First, by the time KCD premiered, Amazon’s promise to separately promote books offered for this program was silently retracted. (**Note from Sabrina: Amazon does now have a page dedicated to some Kindle Countdown Deals.**) There was no additional promotional effort made by Amazon that authors were now offering up special limited promotional deals on their books, which meant that unless someone went directly to the book’s listing page, there was no way for them to know the book was discounted – unless they came there through a separate promotion. Meanwhile, the awareness I had always gleaned from the free promotional sites did not measure up when listing discounted books.
Ultimately, the breakdowns in my sales went like this:
The Wizard In Wonderland normally sells for $3.99. I elected to have the book start at .99 and allow Amazon to raise it back to its original price over seven days. What this broke down to is that on November 7, the book listed at 99 cents; on November 9, it rose to $1.99; on November 11, it went to $2.99; and finally, on November 14, it returned to $3.99. For Britain, there was only one allowable division – so for the entire promotion, the book sold for 99 pence.
For the first tier (99 cent) period in the U.S., I sold two books. During the second tier ($1.99), I sold none. In the next tier ($2.99), I sold one more. Meanwhile, over in the U.K., I sold one book (99 pence) and had no sales thereafter. And I had no immediate follow-up sales in the two weeks following this promotion. So all in all, I sold four copies of the book over the promotional period, with no attributable sales effect from the promotion.
My other books fared no better. All of my other books, being considerably larger than The Wizard In Wonderland, sell for $4.99, and so the tier structure worked a little differently. The first U.S. tier (99 cents) started on November 14, with three other tiers following rather than only two, each of these starting on November 15, 17 and 18, respectively, and the book returning to its normal price on November 21. For the U.K. version, there were only two tiers – 99 pence and £1.99. All of the other books that followed fell into similar divisions.
Keep in mind, I had no control over how the days were divided, only the number of increments over the specified period – in this case, seven days.
For One, I had roughly the same results as with The Wizard In Wonderland – I sold only one U.S. copy for $2.99, though in Britain, I sold two copies at 99 pence and 1 copy at £1.99. So again, I sold four copies. Tarinel’s Song was the same – I sold one copy at $1.99, two copies at $2.99 and one more copy at $3.99, with no sales at all in the U.K. Finally, Two – at the time my most recent release – scored the lowest of all, with only two U.S. sales – one copy for 99 cents and another for $2.99 – while selling none at all in Britain.
So for a bottom dollar account, each of the first three books in the promotion netted 4 book sales in America and Britain, with the final book netting only two. And none of the books demonstrated any sales at all for the two weeks following this promotion.
Just as a counterpoint, as I finish this post I am also finishing a new free book download for The Wizard In Wonderland as promotion for the release of its sequel, Dorothy Through the Looking Glass. Presently, I have had 567 U.S. downloads and 14 U.K. downloads. This demonstrates the marked difference between these programs’ successes on this one title.
So where do I think the fault lies in this program? I fear it rests with Amazon. One of Amazon’s pre-solicited hooks was that they would be promoting authors who signed their books up for KCD. This was silently abandoned and the sole marketing for this promotion fell upon the authors themselves by November, though it seems that since then they have instituted a partial page where some of the KCD books are listed. When an author enlists a book in the free download, Amazon has a separate category for free books so readers can find just those books. But the system set up for the Kindle Countdown Deals is clearly an ineffective substitute for the original promise to promote any author who offered their books. In most cases, the author’s price reduction is treated no differently than any other price change the author may make – with only a selection decided presumably by some unknown criteria set by Amazon being promoted through the actual KCD page.
Consequently, the author’s books that are changed are left on their own, with no discernible way to distinguish them in the Amazon marketplace. An author has no way of guaranteeing at the outset whether their book will be promoted on the KCD page, and so an author must rely on his or her own efforts to promote, with no guarantee of any support from Amazon directly.
All in all, I think the premise of the Kindle Countdown Deal program is good – provide authors a chance to automatically drop their books to a lower price point to raise awareness of their books and have Amazon control a gradual increase back to the original price point. But as I said at the beginning of this post, marketing is everything when you are a self-published author, so if Amazon is not going to promote their authors’ participation in this program, it is destined to fail – primarily because in most cases no one is ever aware that an author has ever participated in the program. The program is not broken – yet. I believe with modifications it could evolve into an excellent marketing tool for authors. I just feel in its present form, that it falls woefully short of a successful program.
Ron Glick (born January 20, 1969) is a community activist, and is presently active in several charitable enterprises. He was born in Plainville, KS. After living in various states, he currently lives in Kalispell, MT. He is the author of The Godslayer Cycle, Chaos Rising and the Oz-Wonderland series, as well as having written several volumes of Ron El’s Comic Book Trivia. He is presently working on the second novel of Chaos Rising. He loves contact and welcomes input on his work through his website at http://ronglick.com.