St. Patrick's Day Blowout: Results

If you were on Twitter over the weekend, you probably heard something about the St. Patrick’s Day Blowout Sale that I ran here on the blog.

A few of you asked how it was all put together, and plenty are keen to hear the results, so I thought I’d run through it all for you today.

As you will see below, it was very successful. So successful in fact, that it might spawn a few imitators.

For those thinking along those lines, a caution: I would imagine there would be diminishing returns on any promo like this, and I might suggest adding your own twist to get anything like the same results. On top of that, it’s a hell of a lot of work.

The Idea

I had been toying with a limited-time 99c sale for some time. I had never sold full-length work at that price, but had success with a $2.99 sale in the past (I usually price at $3.99 or $4.99).

There has been a lot of talk about the 99c price-point before, and I’m not going to add to that now (my views on pricing are here), only to say that I think it’s generally accepted that 99c is not as effective as it was. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that many readers avoid 99c novels as they feel the price is an indication of the (lack of) quality. Fair or not, this attitude exists.

However, I think with a limited-time sale (when clearly marketed as such, and indicated in the blurb on Amazon), you get all of the benefits of 99c, and none of the negatives (bar the reduced royalty rate).

I figured St. Patrick’s Weekend would be slow, given all the festivities and such, and I normally sell quite a bit less on weekends anyway, so I had little to lose.

The next step was inviting other authors. Considering my stuff is quite niche, and I don’t write in the most popular genres, I figured the sale would be a lot more attractive – and would have a better chance of both spreading across Twitter and getting a mention from some of the reader sites – with a nice spread of titles across all genres.

I tested the water in a couple of small writers’ groups on Facebook, could immediately see that interest was strong, and quickly had to make a list of participating titles and genres so I could see which holes I needed to plug. I needed to ensure I had something for everyone, and a few extra titles in the most popular genres, but also had to be careful to cap it at a reasonable limit of books, so that any sales generated weren’t spread too thinly.

That, of course, involved turning down some people as the slate filled up – my least favorite part of this whole exercise.

Putting It All Together

Early on, I decided to host the sale here on this blog. The logic was that without a “home” as such, there would be no one page to link to, which would prevent any chance of news of the sale going viral. I’ve seen people attempt similar group sales in the past, with either mention of the sale scattered across multiple blogs, or no “homepage” for the sale at all. I think that’s a mistake.

Seeing as the group participating had both great blurbs and covers (all have been doing this for a while), I thought it was best to play off those strengths, and make the book covers nice and big on the page, and have a full blurb beside it, rather than just a one-line description.

I also thought a lot about the order the books would be presented in and trialed several iterations. While it was important to have some of the bigger names and genres near the top, it was also crucial to spread some out, to give readers incentive to scroll through the whole page, so that sales wouldn’t be so dependent on the running order.

Thus, for example, thrillers and Michael Wallace went at the top so that readers landing on the page would immediately get the impression that this was a quality selection of books. On the other hand, romance and a big name like Jennifer Blake, went somewhere in the middle, so that readers knew there would be good books and big names throughout.

To encourage readers to scroll all the way down, I had a competition at the very bottom of the page (flagged at the top), where one lucky reader could win all 30 books (it was actually 32 books in the end, but I needed some wiggle room in case of any problems and any books had to drop out. Plus “30” is a better number for marketing purposes, sounds more deliberate).

I kept the competition simple, and wrote out a tweet for readers to share with their followers, then asked them to come back and comment so I would have their email address. The idea, of course, was to spread news of the sale among their followers.

Coding the page took days. WordPress has a standard WYSIWYG interface, which you can switch over to writing in HTML if you prefer, but it also tries to be clever, inputting tags where you don’t need them, and messing everything up. The page had thirty-two large book covers, four thousand words of text, and over one hundred links. With all that, things soon started going screwy, and it took interminable fiddling to get it all looking clean and neat.

I was also adding Amazon and affiliate codes (more info here), both for tracking purposes (how many clicks each link got, and how many of those converted into purchases etc.) and to make a little extra money, which slowed things down. But by late Thursday night, after a rigorous round of testing, it was all finished.

Reader Sites

The final part of the puzzle was the reader sites. I made a list, pooling resources/contacts with the participating authors, and got in touch explaining what were we doing.

I provided them with all the information they could possibly need to either link to the sale, mention the books in the sale, or feature some of the books that had been discounted for the weekend. Depending on what each site wanted, or what I thought they might need, I had a raw list of ASINs, a sheet with participating authors, titles, genres, and price drops, as well as blurbs, covers, and fresh copy promoting the sale for each site that needed it.

I think the key point here is too make it as easy as possible for them, to minimize their work, to be flexible and ready to provide them with what they need, and then you have a greater chance of being featured. Also remember that it’s them (potentially) doing you a favor, not the other way around.

Between all the contacts we had, several sites got on board offering to help promote the sale in various ways. All I could do was cross my fingers and hope everything would come through as planned.

I mailed all the participating authors the day before, asking them to drop their prices to 99c before they went to bed on Thursday night, as the first reader site was picking us up very early, posting at around 5:00 am Eastern. There were a few anxious moments when I woke and saw that five books were still at the old price. Luckily, they all dropped within a few minutes.

The Results

The post garnered just shy of 7,500 views over the weekend, generating 4,259 clicks on the book links for Amazon US alone, which resulting in 1,081 sales between the participating authors Amazon US sales directly from the blog post.

The Amazon UK tracking is all screwed up, and I don’t have any tracking for Barnes & Noble, but my estimate is another few hundred sales from those channels, bringing us close to 1,500 sales directly from the blog post. There were lots more sales indirectly attributable to the promotion, though, but I’ll get to that.

There were a few reasons for this phenomenal blog traffic, ranked in order of effect:

(a) Reader sites came through in a big way. The sale was directly linked to by Ebooks For A Buck, Free Kindle Books and Tips, Ereader News Today, Kindle Fire Department, Indie Reader, and Centsible Ereads (and a huge, huge thank you to all of them, and to big review sites like Big Al’s Books And Pals). This was by far the single most important factor in bringing traffic to the blog.

(b) The link spread like wildfire on Twitter, thanks both to the participating authors hitting  their own networks, other authors/blog readers doing the same (thank you!), and the 100 or so readers entering the competition. There was decent traffic coming from Facebook and people clicking on emailed links, but Twitter won hands down.

(c) When I saw I was on track to make about $150 in affiliate income from the sale, I rolled some of that back into banner ads on Project Wonderful, advertising the sale across a variety of book blogs and reader sites. This was more of an experiment than anything else, and did bring some good quality traffic, but a fraction of the above.

As hinted at, those 1,500 or so sales via the blog were only the beginning. There were lots of sales indirectly attributable to the promotion that I couldn’t track. Indie Reader featured some of the books directly on their site, The Cheap featured most of the participating authors, and Ebooks For A BuckFree Kindle Books and Tips, and Booked Up Reviews featured all the books directly on their site.

On top of that, the increased visibility from appearing on genre bestseller lists drove many, many additional sales that weren’t included in the above number. Let me give an example.

Christine DeMaio-Rice’s Dead Is The New Black did particularly well. Her Amazon US book link was clicked on 244 times, resulting in 101 purchases directly attributable to the blog post. However, Christine kindly shared with me her total sales figures for the weekend for that title. She sold 220 on Amazon US, and a further 105 on Barnes & Noble over the three days of the sale. 325 copies total!

As for myself, I sold just shy of 250 books via the promotion – over two titles – making it a very worthwhile exercise, and over ten times what I would have sold normally. Only 100 sales were directly attributable to the blog, so the rest must have come from reader sites, and placement on bestseller lists.

The day after the promotion ended, I sold 24 books at full price, about triple what I had been averaging in March before the sale. The main reason for that was increased visibility.

The ranking graph for A Storm Hits Valparaiso is on the right. As you can see, the sale pulled this book from nowhere, and dragged it right up to #3,000 or so, placing it on genre bestseller lists it hadn’t graced for quite some time.

Let’s Get Digital did even better, almost cracked the Top 2000, but grabbed the #1 spot in its genre anyway, and kept it all weekend.

Its categories need less sales to get to the top spot, as they are quite granular. And top spot will generate sales on its own, as many readers browse bestseller lists for new books to read.

Because it had that extra visibility post-sale, it grabbed 16 of those 24 sales on Monday, when everything was back to full price, and hasn’t fallen as fast.

Some Lessons

Here’s what I learned this weekend:

(a) If you are participating in a limited-time sale, one of your main objectives should be to have good placement on genre bestseller lists when the sale ends and your prices go back up. Yet another reason why you should choose your categories wisely.

(b) The authors who put a note in their Amazon blurb saying something along the lines of “99c SALE FOR THIS WEEKEND ONLY” did far better than those who didn’t.

(c) The smallest change to a blurb can make a huge difference. Christine deMaio-Rice made a little tweak to her blurb, and the amount of clicks and sales jumped.

(d) Reviews really help on-the-fence purchasers. Books with a lot of good reviews had a much higher conversion rate than those that didn’t.

I’ve more data to crunch before I draw any more conclusions, but the whole promotion was great fun, and I think everyone got something out of it. Readers got a great selection of books for 99c. The writers got more sales than usual (many broke new ground), and made some money too. And all of us exited the sale with much better rankings than when we went in and have a bunch of new readers too!

I would like to thank everyone who participated: the authors for taking a gamble at 99c, the readers for purchasing our books, the reader sites for featuring our books, and everyone who shared news of the sale by email and social media. It truly was a group effort.

EDIT: I completely forgot to thank Christine DeMaio-Rice. In addition to working in the fashion world, and writing books set there, she also has a graphic design business which does affordable book covers, and dropped everything to answer my late night SOS to do up a banner for the sale. Thanks Christine!

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.