Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step 9: Discounts, Competitions & Blog Tours

This is the ninth part of my continuing series INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS, a step-by-step guide to getting your stories into (digital) print. I’ll be doing each step with you, learning as you do, because I’ve never done this before either.

I will be compiling all these steps into a free e-book for my blog-readers when I am done. It’s called Let’s Get Digital and is penciled in for release at the end of June.

The final steps of this self-publishing guide is going to focus on further marketing tips. We have already covered the basics: blogging and websites, pricing, social networking, and reviews. Today, I want to talk about discounts, competitions, giveaways, and blog tours.


Discounts can be a powerful incentive for readers to take a chance on your work. In your Smashwords Dashboard (one of the tabs at the top), you will see a menu on the left where you can generate coupons.

You can set the amount of the discount in percentage terms (or a set discounted price), and you can time-limit the coupon.

In terms of promotion, coupons are gold. Readers love them, and you can tie them into all sorts of things.

Consider giving a guest blog (more on that below) and allowing the readers to buy your book at 25% or even 50% off for the next week.

Why not do the same for your own blog readers as a thank you when you release a new title? After all, these are the people you need to get on your side to help promote your book.

Also, you can offer 20% off during slow periods like holiday weekends or the summer months, or blast Twitter with a one-day only offer to breathe life into flagging sales.

There are so many possibilities here. Just be aware that this will not work with 99c titles. The price that you discount to must remain above the Smashwords minimum of 99c.

If your work is priced at 99c, you can still generate a free coupon. This is handy for review copies, competitions and giveaways. But don’t forget to time-limit the coupon.

The coupons are multiple use and you don’t necessarily want a free coupon out in the public domain which never expires.

Competitions & Giveaways

Giveaways can be useful promotional tools. You can get a bunch of new readers, who may go on to review your book and spread the word.

However, if you do them too often, you can devalue your work. I talked about how to use giveaways to garner reviews in Step 7.

There are an infinite number of ways you can run a competition – you are only really limited by your imagination. And as a writer, you should have that in spades.

When setting up your competition, you need to think what your goals are.

Do you want more Twitter followers, more fans on your Facebook page, more blog views or subscribers, more word-of-mouth, more reviews, or do you simply want to sell more books?

These are all valid goals, and if you are lucky, you can hit more than one with a good competition. However, you should decide what your primary goal is, and tweak your competition accordingly.

The way you do that is with the mode of entry. You might have people enter the competition by sending a tweet, or posting to your Facebook Page, or becoming a follower, or subscribing to your blog.

As for prizes, a free copy of your book is always good. It costs you nothing (unless you gift it through Amazon), and it is the thing you are trying to promote after all.

Some writers use special prizes to increase interest like Amazon gift cards or even Kindles. While this can attract a lot of interest, I wouldn’t recommend it until you already have a substantial social media following.

It’s a significant expense, and as always, you should measure expected results against how many book sales you will have to make to cover the cost of the prize.

As for timing, I’ve always gone with a few days after the release. That way, you don’t cannibalise your opening-day sales, and you can use it to keep up that momentum.

Here are some guidelines I suggest for a successful competition:

1. Use your blog. I post on the day of the competition with details on how to enter, what the prize is, and when the draw will be made. You can also use your website, a forum post, Facebook, or even Twitter, but personally, I think your blog is best. You can use all the others to point towards the blog post.

2. Keep it simple. Too many competitions are too complicated. You need to follow the blog, tweet something, then post in the comments, then do something on Facebook. By all means, encourage that behaviour through spot prizes, or extra “entries” in the draw, but keep the actual entry simple, or most people won’t bother.

3. Tell people. No-one is going to enter if they don’t know about it. Post details to Facebook, Twitter, forums etc. Tweet it several times throughout the day.

4. Entice people. Make the prize sound interesting, whatever it is. Even if it is only a free e-book that costs you nothing, talk it up. Make people want it.

5. Consider Friday. Let’s face it, people are in a better mood on Fridays. I have found a lot better response from promo activities, especially on Twitter, on Fridays.

6. Make it fun. People are far more likely to spread a message if it’s funny or interesting. A standard, boring promo link is unlikely to spread.

7. Go viral. For maximum effect, you want your message to go beyond your immediate circle of followers. To do that you need to think about what you are including in your message.

I ran two competitions in May. The first had a great message for people to tweet (and always give them the tweet – make it is easy as possible for them to enter).

I want a #free #kindle copy of IF YOU GO INTO THE WOODS by David Gaughran so bad that it hurts

That tweet has a number of things – hashtags to increase visibility, a shortened link which takes people to the book page on Amazon, and it’s fun, so people like to spread it. I got a great response to that competition, and a lot of reviews out of it from the winners.

Unfortunately, I made a major mistake, and originally included the link to my Amazon UK page, sending over 70 US readers to the wrong page. By the time I realised, it was too late. That was a killer, and I lost a lot of potential sales.

For the second, I tried something a little different. The tweet wasn’t as fun, but the link went straight back to the competition, in an attempt to expand its reach (by increasing the number of entrants).

#Transfection Spreads Across The Planet!

With this approach, I actually had more sales during the competition, but the blog traffic was less than half. It’s clear to me that the first approach is better, and if I had included the correct link, it would have beaten the second competition on all metrics, by far.

These ideas should be a starting point for you. I’m sure you can come up with something better if you put a little thought into it. And if you can tie it in with the theme of your book somehow, that’s best of all.

The key is to try and be creative, and encourage the creativity of the entrants. Allow multiple entries, and bonus entries for extra promotional efforts done by entrants. If they start promoting the competition themselves, you are expanding your reach beyond your usual audience, without any extra work on your part.

Blog Tours

A blog tour is essentially a scheduled series of guest blog appearances, designed to mimic a book tour. The idea is that you will expose yourself and your work to new audiences.

The blog host gets some free content and potential new readers following you over, and you aim both to get some sales and some people to follow you back to your blog.

There are companies you can pay to organise a blog tour on your behalf. However, like so many things in the author promotion field, I feel there are innumerable possibilities here – costing nothing – that you should explore first.

If you insist on paying for a blog tour, as always, weigh up the cost in the number of books you would have to sell to cover it, and estimate whether it is worth it.

A free approach can bring great results. I am currently on The Never-Ending Blog Tour. A lot of people have asked me what this entails and how I set it all up. It couldn’t be simpler. I wrote a blog post and asked if any bloggers out there would like a day off. I cross-posted the info on a few different forums.

I got a few responses and it all went from there. After you have done a few, others will contact you too. Give the host a couple of different ideas for guest posts, and let them decide – they will know their readers best. Make sure to give them something fresh, not just copied from your blog.

Have a look around at other writer’s blogs. Often they do interviews or feature indie books. Send them an email, most people are very approachable. Schedule a time for the guest post, and turn it in ahead of time.

Make it easy for them, they are doing you a favour. I think it’s always good form to offer to answer any questions in the comments, and then drop back later to check. You should also cross-promote the guest post on your blog, and send them as many readers as possible.

Don’t be shy about promoting your books, but don’t be obnoxious about it either. Talking about how you came up with the idea, or the excitement you felt on releasing it, or receiving reviews, is far more effective than asking people to buy it.

As always, try and think like a reader. What are they interested in? Maybe they want to know a little more about the characters or the world you have built, or maybe they want to hear more about how you choose a book cover. Reading the blog will give you a sense of that, and you can tweak your piece accordingly.

Hosting people on your blog can be a good idea too. Not only do you get a day off, but you can get new readers, and maybe some sales yourself out of it. But, like most promotional activities, the results aren’t always tangible or immediate.

Success in self-publishing is almost always about a slow build. Sometimes readers need to hear about your books a few times before they buy. Keep getting your name out there, but most importantly, keep writing.

The final post in the series will be up this week. It’s called What Happens When The Sales Just Stop. After that, there will be a brief addendum on practicalities such as copyright, ISBNs, taxes, and setting up a company, and the series will be done. I hope you have found it useful. I always read all the comments, so please ask any questions there.

23 Replies to “Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step 9: Discounts, Competitions & Blog Tours”

    1. Yeah, I’m looking forward to having a higher priced title so I can experiment with them myself. But lots of writers have had success using them in the ways that I have described.

      Some people avoid them because they want to channel all their sales into Amazon (and B&N) to climb those rankings. But rankings are temporary, sales are permanent. You can get too fixated on the daily fluctuations of your rankings (and they can jump from 100,000 to 20,000 with one or two sales), but the really important number is the sales each month. That’s what you want to add to, and it doesn’t matter where they come from.

      In fact, for 99c books, you get 56c a copy from Smashwords and only 35c from Amazon.

  1. Nice tips, Dave. Alas, I’m not on Smashwords and have no intentions of doing so. I deal directly with Amazon and B&N through KDP and PubIt!.

    1. Hi Doug,

      Do you avoid Smashwords because of the Meatgrinder, because you want to focus your sales on B&N and Amazon, or some other reason?

      I ask because Smashwords (the site itself) is responsible for 5% of my sales. But because of the higher royalties on 99c work, it’s actually 8% of my revenue. Not big, but not small either, and it’s growing all the time. I think part of the reason is that international customers can’t buy from B&N and with Amazon, unless you are in the USA, Canada, Australia, Ireland, the UK, or the Amazon Germany countries, they attach a $2 surcharge on to all e-books sold. This just KILLS sales, especially at 99c. I direct all those guys to Smashwords.

      They may not have significant e-book markets yet, but they are growing fast.

      On top of that, with Smashwords you get into Apple, Kobo (who are expanding very fast, especially internationally), Diesel, and the app store for the iPhone.

      I have problems with the Meatgrinder myself, and I’m not keen on what it does to my beautifully formatted e-books. But 8% is not nothing, and I expect that number to grow as I am not even in the Premium Catalogue yet, and thus not in Apple, Kobo etc yet.


  2. I’ve been reading through this series over the last few days, and I must say I like the cut of your jib. Lots of good things I’m going to be trying in the next two months as I gear up to release my third novel. A blog tour is something I’ve been seriously considering, but running a competition/giveaway is a fine idea too, though I’ve not had any real idea how to implement that. I do now…

    1. You only REALLY learn by doing. And it’s not that complicated. My first competition was simple. I came up with the idea that morning, posted the blog an hour later, went out for the whole day, came back at around 9pm, and the whole thing had taken off with minimal effort from me. From that, I got lots of blog traffic (I think that post got 222 views at a time when my blog was getting nothing like that kind of traffic), a bunch of twitter followers, a few sales, and a load of nice reviews from the winners. If I hadn’t screwed up the link I could have got a hell of a lot of sales out of it too. It took an hour of my time, a little bit later on, and a little bit the next day to send out the free e-books.

      But this is only the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure that after you do a few (but not too often), you will have even better ideas about how to run a successful competition.

  3. The series has been very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to do the research and give us all the lion’s share of reliable advice.

    1. Thanks Josie,

      We’re not done yet – still one more to go. Plus, I think the free e-book is going to look great. All this posts will be put together, together with about 20,000 words on the state of the publishing industry, and some contributions from some top-secret indie authors. I can’t wait to put it up here so you can all download it for free.


  4. Just to echo other comments, great set of posts.

    Sometimes you need someone to tell you what you should already know, in slightly different words, to get it properly in your head.

    1. James, sometimes it takes me writing a blog post about it to get it straight in mine. Maybe I should write one called: how to make a million dollars in three months!

  5. Hi David,
    thank you for taking the time to write a compelling list of suggestions. And I am grateful you decided it to share it with us. Number 5 is the one that surprised me the most, because it is absolutely true!

  6. David, I am so glad I found these posts. You have been a great help and so clear with your advice.
    One thing: I am with both Amazon and Smashwords and the only time I ‘sold’ well on the latter was when I did a ‘free’ weekend which did nothing for me later. Sales are almost nonexistent and yet Kindle plugs along. I decided to drop to 99 cents for a little while to encourage a platform for my third book due in September and dropped the prices of the current titles on Sunday and immediately sold 20 in an hour or so. Smashwords? Same price? Nothing.
    I can’t work it out.

    1. At the moment, Smashwords is 5% of my sales and 8% of my revenue, because of those higher royalty rates at 99c. I’m not in the Premium Catalogue yet, so I am not yet listed at B&N, Apple, Kobo etc., so I expect these numbers to rise. I direct all customers who are not living in USA, Canada, Australia, UK, Ireland, and the Amazon Germany countries there so they can avoid the $2 Whispernet Surcharge that Amazon applies to all e-books in all other international locations.

      Aside from that, Smashwords itself doesn’t generate much sales on its own. Are you referring to sales through the Smashwords partners (B&N, Apple, Kobo, Diesel, Sony) or the site itself? Have you been accepted into the Premium Catalogue?

      1. As an international reader, I can only confirm what David wrote: I get upset every time I see that a book is about $2 more expensive that it should be on amazon (and knowing that the author gets nothing of the extra charge doesn’t exactly contribute to my calming down again).

        What happens in those cases is that I check smashwords and if the book is up there: yup. If it is not: Usually – if I don’t feel the veryveryburning urge to read it – I don’t buy it at all. It has happened and will happen again. Sorry, folks.

        I might be only one lonely international reader out there that doesn’t like to be taken for a fool, but I guess there will be more of us. Even if you won’t make a lot of sales on smashwords (or none at all) now, you should consider if missing out on possible sales is really on your agenda.

        1. Hi Stefan,

          You know my feelings on this too, we have talked about it before. I never got a reply to my email to Amazon, or one that I sent a week later, which is very annoying. I think the only solution is that we start a mass popular movement across Europe to buy 100,000 of my e-books, and then they might listen to me!

          Even aside from the extra distribution through the Premium Catalogue, I think it’s crucial to list on Smashwords itself, just to allow international readers to buy your work at a fair price. Too often in the past, they have been overcharged for books, had to put up with poor translations, or have never even been able to purchase the books they want. That is unacceptable in today’s world.


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