Plans to offer my annual Veterans Day book discount didn’t pan out this year and here’s why
Here’s how the promo for my 2022 Veterans Day discount was supposed to start: “From now until midnight November 11th, readers can purchase the entire Since You Went Away series for 25% off both print and ebook editions.” Except I wasn’t able to run the promo this year, because a certain large online bookstore somehow wasn’t able to lower the print price of my books—even though I’ve been offering the same Veterans Day discount almost every year since 2017, when the first book in the series was published.
As a small business owner and independent author, I depend on promotions like this to get the word out about my books. Especially for my Since You Went Away series—a fictionalized story about a modern-day military family—Veterans Day is the ultimate tie-in opportunity to draw attention to the series and, if I’m lucky, see a nice little bump in sales. And to be honest, as an indie author, spreading the word about my books is an uphill battle. I’m not getting rich here, and I’m okay with that. I love what I do and I love being an author who publishes my own books. I’ve had my books published traditionally by one of the Big Five publishers (or are we down to the Big Four now—it’s hard to keep track these days), and I can tell you from hard-earned experience that being an indie author is way more fun than going the traditional route. And at this stage in my life, I’ll choose self-agency and fun over group think and bureaucracy any day of the week.
But even indie publishing has its limits, because as self-publishers we still (mostly) rely on other vendors to distribute and sell our books. Even today in the age of social media and online bookstores, our success is often determined by our ability to work the system. In many ways self-publishing today is harder than it was 27 years ago, when I self-published my first book in 1995. Back then there was no Instagram, no Facebook, no Twitter, no WordPress, and definitely no such thing as an ebook. (In fact in those days if you mentioned the word Amazon, most people thought you were talking about a river in South America.) But the widespread availability of such technology—like social media that makes it easier for authors to broadcast our latest book news to the world, and ebook sites that make creating books more accessible than ever—is also the very thing that makes it harder to get noticed, because we are now competing with millions of others across the globe trying to get our work in front of potential readers.
But I digress. The point is, you can’t run a promotion for discounted books if the books aren’t discounted. And therein lies the problem. This past Monday morning leading up to Veterans Day (which fell on a Friday this year), I logged onto my sales dashboard at a certain online bookseller to lower the price of my Since You Went Away series in anticipation of kicking off my annual promotion at some point mid-week. Since this particular retailer quotes various timelines of 24-72 hours to allow for price changes to take effect (and in the preceding five years of my experience with this retailer, price changes invariably took less than 24 hours), I believed I had allowed plenty of time for even the most gigantic retailer on earth to make a simple price change. Or so I thought.
For indie authors, running a book promotion is not as simple as logging onto a sales dashboard and changing a price. There’s the blog post (like this one was supposed to be) announcing the promotion featuring book blurbs, graphics, and links to the various retail sites. Then there are the social media posts, which can be based on your original blog copy but need to be tailored to each site’s word limit, photo specs, audience, and overall “vibe.” If you’re detail-obsessed like me, you spend a lot of time writing, editing, and tweaking each individual post to make sure it optimizes such an important promo opportunity without needlessly flooding other people’s social media feeds and end up annoying or alienating potential readers rather than attracting them.
I won’t bore you with the gory details on how much time I spent this past week emailing, live chatting, and phoning customer support trying to figure out why the prices for the paperback versions of Since You Went Away weren’t being discounted on this particular site as requested. The prices on the ebook versions of the series were updated in less than 12 hours, so it was puzzling that the print prices were taking so long to update. And as of today (six days later—the day after Veterans Day and twelve hours after the sale was scheduled to end) the paperback prices still haven’t been discounted. So I gave up on this year’s promotion. It’s not about the lost sales really. It’s not even about missing this once-a-year opportunity to share my books with people who might like to know about them. For me, it’s a reminder that as much as I love being my own boss and running my own business and hiring cover designers and editors of my own choosing, I’m not as much the master of my own fate as I thought I was, even when it comes to writing and publishing my own books.
Funny thing is, I’m not as upset about this stupid price debacle as I thought I’d be. Yeah, I was hella frustrated this week trying to deal with customer service people who say they value your business and want to solve your problem but do absolutely nothing to actually solve said problem. We’ve all been there, done that a million times over, right? First world problems as they say.
BUT… there’s that teeny-tiny part of me that’s still kinda pissed off about the whole thing, you know? The part of me that rails at big business stomping on the little guy because they can or they just don’t care. Whether you’re a musician or painter or sculptor or comedian or—yes—a writer who either can’t get past industry gatekeepers or chooses not to submit themselves to faceless corporate sales forces, you have to make the decision, every single day of your career, to not let the bastards get you down (as my mom used to say). To keep fighting the good fight. I may have lost this particular battle with earth’s biggest bookstore, but I’ll never stop writing, never stop creating, never stop sharing my work with others. And because of this experience, I’m even more motivated than ever to find new and different ways to promote and sell my books and reach new readers. Like adding an online store to this website for example. These things take time, so I ask you to stay tuned. Meanwhile, I’m going to nurture that small part of me that’s still kinda pissed off. Because sometimes you have to listen to that little voice inside your head. The one that says fuck you to the fucking fuckers.