How Important are Cover and Price When Promoting Your Ebook? Very!

by USA Today bestselling author Julianne MacLean

Thank you for inviting me here, Julie!  I am a huge fan of your work and am so grateful to you for all your generous contributions to the world of indie publishing.

As I write this blog, I am in the midst of a two-week 99 cent sale for my ebook TAKEN BY THE COWBOY, a time travel romance that I originally released with a completely different cover and title last June.  At this moment in time, the book is ranked at 172, and I’d like to share how I reached this position.

First Let’s Talk About the Packaging

I am a traditionally published author of historical romance, and I have been building a loyal readership over a number of years, so when I decided to self-publish a slightly quirky time travel, I wanted my readers to understand it was something different, and I also thought I might like to experiment and try to reach new readers.

I had a fun, contemporary cover designed by the fantastic Kim Killion at Hot Damn Designs, and I launched the book in June under the title THE SEXY GIRL’S GUIDE TO COWBOYS.  It was unlike all of my previous covers, however, and it stuck out like a sore thumb on my website.

To make a long story short, the sales were not what I had hoped for, and I quickly realized that the majority of my long time readers were shying away from the book because it looked like chick lit.  I had tossed the “cover continuity” rule out the window, changed my brand and alienated my readers, which meant I was starting from scratch to target a new and completely different readership.

I immediately re-hired Kim to design another cover that would be consistent with my brand, and I retitled the book TAKEN BY THE COWBOY (see cover at top of page).  Within a week, I had the new version uploaded.  I was able to keep the same ISBN number, so all links to the old book page remained the same, and Amazon was helpful enough to send emails to everyone who already bought it – to let them know there was an updated edition.  Smashwords was equally helpful. If anyone unwittingly tried to buy it twice, they would be informed that they already had it.

I also rewrote the back cover blurb to make it less chick-litty.  Here is the original version:

The West Was Never Wilder…

What would you do if your car spun out of control and you woke up in the Wild West of 1881?

Dressed in skinny jeans, sexy red pumps – and frustrated by a troublesome lack of cell phone reception – fitness columnist Jessica Delaney soon finds herself dodging bullets.  Before the night is out, she’s thrown in jail for a murder she didn’t commit, and if things don’t seem complicated enough, the hot-looking sheriff in charge of her arrest has danger written all over him – and a sexy swagger to die for.

Jessica knows she needs to get home, but when ruggedly handsome Sheriff Truman Wade gives her a taste of the real Wild West, she begins to wonder… what’s her hurry?

The new version, which is currently on Amazon, reads more like my other books.  It focuses more on the alpha male hero and the emotional intensity of a deeper romance.
Even at the same price, the ranking immediately improved when I let my readers know about the new cover, so I believe it was the right move.  It was a good lesson about the importance of author branding and cover continuity, and staying loyal to your devoted readers.

The 99 Cent Price Promotion

TAKEN BY THE COWBOY was priced at 4.79 since June, and has held a steady ranking of about 5000-6000 all summer.   I decided I wanted to give it another push, however, so I planned a two week 99 sale from Sept 1-15.

I booked features on two ebook “power blogs” –Daily Cheap Reads and Ereader News Today–which both command a lot of traffic.  I also let the admins know that it was a “limited time only” price.

On September 1, the Daily Cheap Reads post appeared and the ranking spiked to a peak of 400, then it levelled out to 1000 a few days later.
A week later, on Friday night, September 9, Ereader News Today featured the book, and I saw another immediate spike within an hour.   The ranking rose from 1000 to a peak of 139 by Saturday morning, and today (Sunday) it’s 173.  I’ve sold about 700 copies since Friday night, so in my opinion, ENT definitely qualifies as a heavy artillery blog.
I must add, however, that for me, the 99 cent price point has worked best when promoting on these power blogs.  I don’t get anywhere near that kind of click-through success if my book is priced over 2.99.  So I think it’s worth it to drop the price for those important blog appearances if you can plan it that way–even just for a temporary promotion–in order to get your ranking up as high as possible in a short amount of time before you raise the price back to its normal level.

(Other factors that influence click-through success are the right combination of a great cover, good reviews, intriguing blurb, and a popular genre.  Some genres simply do better than others.)

I suspect the higher ranking I have attained will hold steady for a while, because my book is now positioned more prominently all over the Amazon site.  I’ve hit three bestseller lists during this promotion and my cover is appearing on more book pages in the “Customers who bought this item also bought…” section.

Finally, in terms of price strategy, I did not let Amazon do the discounting for me by lowering my price elsewhere.  (i.e. If you lower the price at Smashwords, and it becomes cheaper at other retailers, Amazon will lower the price to match it, and you will still receive 70% royalty–even at 99 cents.)  This is a good strategy if your book is priced at 99 cents permanently, or if you don’t mind it staying there for a while, because it looks attractive to customers who can see the markdown and know they are getting a discount.
But for my situation–where I wanted to blast hard and aggressively for two weeks only–I chose the 35% royalty and lowered the price myself.  I took that royalty loss so that I could be in complete control about raising the price again when I wanted to.  I did not want to be forced to wait for Amazon to get around to raising it, because that can sometimes take weeks.

This is important to consider if there is a chance the stars might align and you could end up hitting the Amazon Top 100 storewide list.  In that case, you may want to end your sale (and strike gold) while the book is selling well.  (If you’re on the Top 100 list, you can sell about 1000 books per day, and even more than that if you hit very high on the list.)  If that happened to your book, it would be a shame not to be able to end your sale when you intended to.

Please leave a comment if you have questions or suggestions about great pricing and packaging strategies.  I am happy to share information, and I am very thankful to all the other indie authors out there who are so generous with their knowledge.

From Julie: Thank you Julianne, for sharing this information and your valuable insights. Readers, CLICK HERE to grab your copy of Taken by the Cowboy during this 99¢ promotion, or to read the updated blurb on her product page.

Learn more about Julianne MacLean from her Website at http://www.juliannemaclean.com where you can see how much better the new cover blends with her historical romances published by St. Martin’s Press.

You can also follow Julianne on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

25 comments

  1. Norah Wilson says:

    Congratulations, Julianne! Sounds like your targetted promotion really worked! I love your idea of biting the bullet on switching the price to Amazon yourself, if it’s a limited, short term sale. I frankly wouldn’t have thought of that. It’s brilliant! I recently went free for a while, which sent my cozy mystery THE CASE OF THE FLASHING FASHION QUEEN to #1 in the Top 100 Free kindle content list. It has slowly drifted out of the top 100, but it continues to pay dividends in sales of the 2nd book in the series. But getting the taps turned off is proving to take just as long as getting Amazon to make it free in the first place. If anyone chooses this strategy, be prepared to give away a LOT of books!

  2. Great info, Julianne! I had a similarly fantastic sales experience when I put my historical romance The Fairy Tale Bride on sale for a wedding promotion. I wish I’d been as organized as you are, though! I was pretty much playing it by ear at the time.

    I’m very glad to know that Amazon and Smashwords let customers know about cover updates, too. I’m thinking of doing a whole new set of covers (with people this time…I know, it takes me a while to learn my lesson — my covers are gorgeous, but they don’t have people!) when I release the last two books in the series. But that won’t be until late November at the earliest. There are also a few more things I learned during my promotion — but I hadn’t known about DCR and EReaderNews and so I didn’t do any paid promo at the time. Very good to know how helpful this was for you.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Hi Kelly – the great thing about DCR is that it is free. The ladies there are wonderful – but you do have to book well in advance, and they will tell you when your feature will appear. I planned my 99 cent around their date.

    ENT is sort of free. If you sign up for Book of the Day, there is a fee for that, but if Greg features you (his choice) in his Bargain Kindle book section, there is no fee. He does like to receive donations after the fact if you are pleased with the result. I am heading over there now to send him a donation, because I am most definitely pleased.

    It’s Monday morning, and I have now sold 1000 copies since Friday night. Thank you ENT!

  4. PS Kelly – I think your covers are gorgeous. They are very mainstream, which is a good thing. If I were you, I would stick with that continuity for that series, because they have done really well. But it’s so hard, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll always wonder “what if” I had done something differently. And it’s fun to experiment.

    I wasn’t too worried about changing my cover because I had only sold about 100 copies when I made the decision. I wasn’t worried about unsettling too many people :).

  5. Julianne — Exactly! The “what if” is even worse when you have control than when your publisher does :-) What I noticed when I looked at the other historical romances around me was that I was the only non-people cover. I rather liked the way it stood out, but I did feel a bit like I had missed the people memo because I was busy being overly cautious and frugal (my poor cover artist — Julie! …who no longer does covers — was so wonderful and gave me much more than I deserved).

    I forgot about the free DCR — Paula featured The Fairy Tale Bride during a 48 hour Mother’s Day sale. That was a big turning point for the book. How could I forget her? She’s awesome.

  6. Thanks for sharing the details, Julianne. I find this whole new publishing world fascinating and your posts are always filled with solid facts – which I really appreciate.

  7. JV says:

    Don’t forget about the Nook! Everyone seems to focus on Amazon to the exclusion of Nook owners. I see that B&N has your book with the new cover (much more appealing to me, personally) also, but for the higher price. However, I bought it anyway, largely because it’s a LendMe book that I can share with one friend.

    You might be surprised how many times I’ve purchased the same book I borrowed from a friend because I enjoyed it so much, and even more often, I’ve looked up the author’s backlist and have purchased other books she’s written. I know a lot of authors/publishers don’t utilize the LendMe feature, but if I bought it in paperback instead of digital format, I would definitely lend (never just give outright if I like a book) a book to a friend, often creating a new loyal reader in the process.

  8. Hey Norah – that is awesome tht your free book did so well. I really believe in the free book promotion – especially when it’s part of a series. Unfortunately, my two self-published books are both stand alones, completely different genres, so it affects what I can and cannot do in terms of pricing.

  9. Great information, Julianne – thank you SO much for sharing it with us. Your two back cover blurbs each carry a definite style, and I can see the familiar Julianne MacLean voice strongly in the second blurb and cover.

  10. Julianne, congrats on the success of TAKEN BY THE COWBOY. I remember our nail-biting conversation when you were first thinking about changing the cover AND the title while we were in New York. It was a bold thing to even consider. You’d already invested in a really good cover and planned your marketing strategy (something you’re very good at) but you were savvy enough to see right away that you’d made a miss-step.

    That’s the beauty of being an indie author. If you make a mistake with marketing, you can take swift action. If your print publisher makes a mistake, you’re stuck with it. Those mistakes can be career-killers. I think this release clearly shows just how important packaging is.

    Kelly, I’m as torn as you on the covers. I really like the concept and unified look we came up with for your Bride series, but yes, people covers do seem to be selling well. The challenge is finding the right stock art when you do a people cover. But with every month that passes, more and more stock art is available, giving cover designers more freedom. If you do people covers for the next two in the series, you might be able to unify them with the other covers by sticking with the “invitation” card for the titles.

  11. Fantastic and informative post, Julianne! Congratulations on your success with your recent sales strategy. Sounds like it worked great!

  12. Deborah Hale says:

    Thanks for breaking all this down, Julianne! I learned so much. Glad your strategy paid off!

    One wonderful thing about self-publishing is the control an author has to go for a do-over if something you tried (like the different cover and title) didn’t work as well as you hoped.

  13. Pam Headrick says:

    Really good guest blog…and great success with the strategy. If I learn too much more, I’ll just have to write my own novel! Thanks Julie AND Julianne!

  14. Great blog, Julianne! I’m so glad you talked about branding our covers. I do think that’s a very important point. Even though your book was quirky and different, it was still going for that historical reader, so when you changed your cover to reflect that rather than a chick-lit look, it worked. Having recently put up my first four books in e-book myself, I believe having a covert that reflects your brand is vital. Before putting up my historicals, I debated long and hard about whether or not to have a clinch cover, and I finally decided that for me and my brand it was the right decision to have a clinch. It kept my overall “look”.

  15. That was very helpful, informative and engaging. Also a great promotion tool (this guest blog with the subject matter being what so many people are interested in these days!) Of course I’m going to check out the book as well! Thanks, girls!!

  16. Hi JV – thanks for you thoughts about lending – and I’m all for that! I love it when readers pass a book along to a friend.

    As far as the sale price at B&N – it was on sale there for 99 cents for two weeks, but that one ended last Friday. The Amazon sale will end this Thursday or Friday, so they were a bit staggered. It’s hard to control exactly when the price change happens sometimes.

    Thanks again for commenting :)

  17. Thank you Deb and Vonda!

    And Julie – thanks for being supportive when I thought about changing the cover. It’s nice when friends are honest and helpful, which you were.

    I agree that this is one of the benefits of self-publishing – that we can make changes. What’s also nice is that even though I released the book in June and it didn’t do well, the sky didn’t fall when that initial release date came and went without much success. It certainly didn’t kill my career. After I changed the cover, I sat on it for the whole summer – I retreated and regrouped – and waited for the right moment when I felt ready to promote it. I had a deadline and a book to finish, so I couldn’t really do much anyway, but that didn’t matter. The right time came, and everything has turned out fine :).

  18. Julianne – Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. One question. I know you very deliberately changed your branding on your women’s fiction release, so it was natural to try that strategy again.
    What about what’s between the covers of this book? Was the tone of COWBOY more similar to your historicals? Judging by the cover (and we all do!), I would expect a very different sort of read from the second Cowboy cover (and title) than from the first. And if the read didn’t meet my expectations, I’d be disappointed.

  19. Fran Baker says:

    Great post, Julianne. And wonderful book … funny, sexy, all the stuff that makes a reader want to read it again!

  20. Carly Carson says:

    Julianne, Thanks for the detailed info. Even though the first cover didn’t do as you’d hoped, I think it’s good that you tried. Now you know. The ability to move quickly is one of the very best things about indie publishing.

  21. Phoebe Conn says:

    I love the new cover and I bought a copy.
    It sounds like a great story.

  22. Hi Blythe – to answer your question, you hit the nail on the head — I was trying duplicate the success I had with The Color of Heaven, which was to rebrand with a different style of cover and reach new readers. But I decided that was the wrong way to go, because this book is, at heart, a classic romance genre novel, and most of it takes place in a historical setting, and the tone is similar to my Highlander historicals. There is a bit more humor in this story, however, which is why I went with the upsidedown heroine on the first cover. It was a departure and a risk, to be sure.

    I do believe readers would have been disappointed with the type of read they were getting if they bought it based on the first cover, because it’s not chick lit. The heroine is very contemporary in terms of her behavior and mindset (she loves shoes :)), but the storyline and setting and emotional tone is very much in keeping with my historicals. This second cover is more suited, I believe.

    Thanks for popping by!

  23. Thanks Phoebe! Hope you enjoy it :)

  24. Bev says:

    Love the new cover, Julianne. I have to say, I was scratching my head over the original cover wondering what kind of book it was. Great information. Having a sale is a great marketing strategy. I think it works better if the reader knows that it will definitely go ‘OFF SALE’ at a given point as opposed to remaining at .99.

  25. Wil James says:

    Great post, Julie, and thanks! I’ve been at this indie author self-publishing business for almost two years on Smashwords, and a bit longer elsewhere. Still, I learned a lot from reading your post and the comments. Much appreciate all the time and effort. I’ll be sure to use some of the new ideas to help get my six eBooks out there better.

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