An American Editor

March 18, 2013

Author Lamentations: eBook Week Sales

The week of March 3-10 was “Read an eBook Week,” which is a week that I particularly look forward to each year. It is the week when many authors put their ebooks on sale, with discounts ranging from 25% to 100% of the normal price. Smashwords is a major promoter of this event, and is usually where I go to buy more ebooks for my to-be-read pile.

In past years, I have spent several hundred dollars on indie ebooks during this week, and I have also “bought” a goodly number of 100%-discount ebooks. This year I bought 3 ebooks plus a dozen of the 100%-discount ebooks. I simply could not find more ebooks from indie authors that interested me; I did find several that I am interested in buying in the future, but I felt no rush to buy them now because they were not on sale. If I’m going to pay full price, I’ll pay it when I am ready to read the ebook, not before.

On some of the fora in which I participate, authors were lamenting that “Read an eBook Week” didn’t boost sales. One complaining author noted that before eBook Week his sales were at zero and during eBook Week his sales remained flat at zero. In his case, I think three things were at work: first, he didn’t discount his book at all during a week when readers expect to find a discount; second, the subject-matter/genre of his ebook was not one that draws readers like bees to honey; and third, whether his book had ever seen the helping hand of a professional editor was doubtful based on the sample.

Other complaining authors noted slight upticks in sales, but not anything to boast about.

This year, unlike past years, authors seemed to be quiet about “Read an eBook Week.” I saw very few pushes to get the word out by these indie authors, which made me wonder how they expected to get readers to notice their books. Many of them also opted for the smaller discounts. I admit that I didn’t even bother to look at books in the 25% discount category and only once spent a little time in the 50% discount category. Most of my browsing was on the 75% and 100% discount categories, and based on comments made in response to the complaining authors, it appears my browsing was typical.

It is clear to me that authors with low to middling sales during eBook Week made several fundamental errors. First, they did little to no self-promotion so potential readers were not made aware of their ebooks. Stores like Smashwords promote the week itself, not individual ebooks; it is up to the indie author to promote his or her ebook, which means the author needs to make sure that tags are appropriate and numerous, that descriptions are well-written and targeted, and that the correct genre(s) are associated with the ebook. For example, I do not like books about vampires or the Harlequin-type romances or “gothic” novels. Consequently, when I see tags that identify an ebook as fitting in one of those categories, I pass it by. Of course, other readers cannot get enough of those categories, so they would be attracted — if the ebook is properly tagged and described.

The second error was that they had a bad combination of too high a retail price and too low a discount for their book. Many ebookers are like me — reluctant to spend $5.99 on an ebook from an author with whom they are unfamiliar and a 25% discount is little inducement. Authors need to think about the promotion. Many of these same authors joined Amazon’s exclusive program and offered their ebook for free at Amazon for 5 days. So why not offer a steep discount for the 7 days of eBook Week?

The third error that a number of authors made was to offer the steep discount on the second or third book in a series, rather than on the first book. I cannot imagine what thinking lies behind that decision. Once I saw that the ebook was the second or third in a series and that the first book was not being discounted, I just moved on. I suspect many readers did the same.

The fourth error was in offering the same ebook this year as they offered last year and even the year before. I would think that by now most readers who are interested in the offered book have already obtained it. One of the purposes of eBook Week is to not only introduce your ebook to new readers but to reignite interest in you in readers who have some familiarity with you but who do not view your ebooks as “must” reads.

The fifth error was the failure to take the opportunity to rewrite the blurbs. Poorly written blurbs can kill a sale. If you haven’t been selling a steady stream of ebooks, perhaps it is time to rewrite the blurb — give the ebook a fresh coat of paint, but paint of a different color.

The sixth error is really not an error except in broad terms: It is the failure to recognize that it is possible that the subject matter of your ebook just doesn’t have broad appeal or that if it does fall into the broad appeal area, that perhaps other books are better written (and better promoted). In other words, this isn’t like A Field of Dreams where “if you write it, they will find it”

or “if you write it, they will buy it.”

Readers tend to be a bit fussier than that.

I’m sure that only a few authors not guilty of all six failures, but every author who had disappointing sales during eBook Week is guilty of one or more of these failures. As an indie author, it is the author’s responsibility to fix these failures, yet I am sure that many will take no corrective action and will find other excuses for why eBook Week was a failure for their ebook.

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating: There is a natural progression to getting someone to buy your ebook. It begins with the cover, runs through the story’s development to the editing of the manuscript, and ends with the promotional efforts made by the author. A weakness in one area can be devastating. The indie author needs to be sure that current weaknesses are identified and addressed so as to pave the path for success. Authors who were disappointed by this year’s eBook Week have a year until the next eBook Week and so can work toward making next year a success.



  1. Were there less discounted ebooks on offer this year? I only managed to find a handful that interested me.

    On the other side, I gave away one book and discounted another. No complaints here — I even sold more full-priced books.


    Comment by Vicki — March 18, 2013 @ 5:25 am | Reply

    • I don’t know if there were fewer discounted ebooks this year, but like you, I only found a handful that interested me (too many I already had bought in past years). It seemed to me as if there were fewer discounted titles being offered, at least in the 75% and 100% categories. I didn’t really check the other categories.


      Comment by americaneditor — March 18, 2013 @ 6:18 am | Reply

  2. I wish I had known about it. Which proves the promotional side of the sale was neglected. Too bad. I would think that most authors would
    understand how exposure is a good thing at any cost.


    Comment by Life in the 50's and beyond... — March 18, 2013 @ 6:21 am | Reply

  3. AE wrote: “There is a natural progression to getting someone to buy your ebook. It begins with the cover, runs through the story’s development to the editing of the manuscript, and ends with the promotional efforts made by the author. A weakness in one area can be devastating. The indie author needs to be sure that current weaknesses are identified and addressed so as to pave the path for success.”

    I totally agree with the above summary.

    In defense of indie authors who don’t hit the jackpot in all areas, though, I must say that it’s extremely difficult for many of them to get the help they need, whether because of funding, or inexperience to make good judgments about the help they do get, or simply lack of the perceptive ability to recognize that their book still needs work.

    The true error, IMO, is having unrealistic expectations. An indie author needs to understand what sells a book and accept poor sales if their efforts don’t meet those criteria. The choice then is to either live with poor sales or do what has to be done to improve them. It’s a tough choice that must be an informed one. But it’s hard to choose wisely if you’re not informed, or get bad advice!

    Few indie authors have mentors to help them. And it’s hard for them to understand the flood of info when they do get it, especially if they don’t come from a publishing background. Indies need to learn so much, carry so much weight, and then often get put down for it.


    Comment by Carolyn — March 18, 2013 @ 7:15 am | Reply

  4. “…whether his book had ever seen the helping hand of a professional editor was doubtful based on the sample.” I’ll admit the first turn-off for me is the visual; if a cover looks slapped together it does not bode well for the book and I may not go any further. But the second place I look is the promo copy. I understand (sort of) a writer not wishing to pay a professional editor. I think some writers look at awful books like “50 Shades of Grey” and think publishing success is like winning the lottery — and why spend more than a buck for a lottery ticket? But if someone can’t even edit his promo copy he has a serious problem. I am working on a book right now, and, in spite of a limited income, when I am finished I plan to hire a copyeditor. Even editors need editors.

    In response to Carolyn’s comments, above, I agree that if you don’t know what the issues are you are not going to fix them. And, sure, most writers don’t have mentors. Still, there is so much to learn from the internet, even in spite of the flood of info. Start with the platform you are publishing on (ie, Smashwords) and look at the advice from the site itself.


    Comment by Jan Arzooman — March 22, 2013 @ 10:28 am | Reply

  5. Thanks for this post. I am reading everything I can about the path to success for indie authors and, even then, I am still going to go slow and be careful. I want to avoid the mistakes made by others, if only for the fact that I don’t want to complain when things don’t work out how I planned. Thanks again for the post. Bookmarking it now!


    Comment by Allen Watson — March 25, 2013 @ 9:56 pm | Reply

  6. This post got me thinking about Ebooks and the reasons I buy. I did a run down as to whats most important to me when selecting from the ever expanding indie marketplace…

    I admit I’m a sucker for a great cover. The image should be soft and relevant (I tend to be drawn to sepia or black and white images), font choices, great style. I avoid anything that screams old school mass market.

    My preferred genre is literary, humor, romance, mystery. I’m not a fan of paranormal, sci fi, horror, etc. Write a great (to the point) blurb that attracts me to your book. A mistake I see most ebook authors make is not including their blurb after their title page of the ebook itself. Once I’ve downloaded something I don’t have the luxury of picking up a paper book and reading the blurb to remind myself why I purchased something. I miss that in ebooks, It should be required in my opinion!

    I will read a few reviews if my interest is peaked. What I love about the Kindle is that I can select them by the number of stars and I’ll read a sprinkling of each. I’ve often found that I’ve liked books that other readers may hate so a few one star reviews based on taste don’t necessarily turn me off.

    Price is a big factor for me. I’m a die-hard paper book lover that resisted buying a Kindle for a very long time. I’ve some self established rules for book buying. If I’m going to buy a hardcover, it MUST be a first edition otherwise I’ll wait for it in softcover for well known and loved authors. I will not pay more than $4 for an ebook. If I download a sample or discounted book and I like the writing I’ll buy others in the series provided they’re priced in my range. But I can’t justify paying more than $4 for a “file”. I can buy a used softcover for that price and either donate to my library or loan it easily to friends. If the author isn’t in print, then that may be my loss.

    Once I’ve got the ebook on my device I’m generally a good sport. I will forgive not quite up to par writing skills – bearing in mind that a lot of indie ebooks are written by new authors still developing their craft. If the characters, story, plot appeal to me, $4 for a days entertainment seems fair. One thing that I find absolutely unforgivable is not proofreading your book. It angers me when a writer has such little regard for my valuable reading time, not to mention my money, that they will publish and sell a book that is full of typos. I will return these to Amazon for a refund and write a scathing review.


    Comment by Carol — March 27, 2013 @ 2:52 pm | Reply

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