By PJ Parrish
My husband does the grocery shopping in our house. He’s a sucker for buy-one-get-one free. He can’t resist, bless his little hunting-and-gathering heart. I just did a tour of our closets and pantry. We have four bottles of Gardini’s Caesar Dressing, three six-packs of Swiss Miss cocoa mix, five cans of Edge shaving cream, six bags of Greenie dog treats and 52 rolls of toilet paper.
The other day, after hitting the garden section at Home Depot, I popped the trunk to load in my mulch only to find the trunk stuffed with four 8-roll packs of Bounty paper towels. He knows we have no room for this in our small house, and this is a bit of a marital turf war, but he can’t help himself. Why buy just one if you can get three at a great price?
Okay, he did come home the other day with four bottles of my favorite pinot. It was buy-one-get-one day at Publix. Wine can go a long ways to soothing the savage wife.
Who can resist a real bargain? Buy-one-get-one-free packaging is a time-honored ploy to hook customers. Musicians have been onto this since the Great Vinyl Age. TV specials and movies are routinely packaged as one box-set either as physical discs or streaming options. (Being a Luddite, I treasure my CD box-set of the complete original Star Trek).
I realize this post isn’t for everyone. But if you already have some books out there, you might considering bundling. Bundled books can stoke new interest in old titles, especially if you a series, because readers love to move easily from one book to the next. Or perhaps, you’ve written books on one subject — like our own James here does with his series on fiction craft. Even if you’re still slaving away on that first book, file this away for the future marketing option.
I’m writing about this today only because my sister Kelly and I have finally gotten around to doing this. Today marks the debut of our first bundle in our Louis Kincaid series. I don’t usually go in for blatant self-promotion, but even if you don’t buy it, go check it out just to see if it might work for you.
We’re able to do this because we finally have the rights back to almost every book in our series. We’ve redesigned and self-published all the titles as ebooks and trade paperbacks, but we’re banking on the idea that a bargain bundle might stoke sales and reap new readers. Our plan is the bundle three titles at a time over the next couple months.
Okay, so what do you have to do to get this off the ground? My sister Kelly is going to answer here because she has handled all the technical aspects of this, including the formatting and cover designs. Also, my friend Neil Plakcy will weigh in. Neil has four series in bundle now: Golden Retriever Mysteries, Have Body, Will Guard, Mahu Investigations, and Angus Green FBI Thrillers. He has also bundled up a group of young adult romances, and collected together three unrelated contemporary gay romance novels. After retiring from teaching college, he now writes full-time, kept company by his husband and their two rambunctious golden retrievers. Check out his bundles at http://www.mahubooks.com
1. Why bother, if the individual books are already available?
Neil: The advantage is that readers can get a 600-page book for one credit. Bundling also helps read-through — the reader doesn’t have to go back to the store to get the next book. It’s already there. I also use the bundles to generate read-through. If you got 1-3 for free, or through Kindle Unlimited, I hope that you’ll be motivated to keep reading.
Kris: Neil’s point about read-through is a good one. A new release deserves its own launch and breathing space. But if the books have been out for some time, it can generate new interest. Binge consumption is the norm these days, and a box-set of your work at a good price entices readers. As indie superstar Kristine Kathryn Rusch says, “The best way to get noticed is by publishing enough that readers can binge for a weekend.” Binge readers who buy box-sets are often a different audience than those who buy individual books. Why not go after them?
2. How do you decide which books to bundle together?
Neil: By theme? (I’ve done a set with stand alone gay romances) Or by series? That’s the traditional way I have done them. I usually do a three-book bundle but I’ve also experimented with a larger set. I’ve seen other authors who will put together a complete series. In my case, I’m usually still writing in that series.
Kris: Neil is very prolific. For us, we have just our Louis Kincaid series, so the decision is easy. It seems to me bundling would work best for series writers. Or perhaps you have a sci-fi or fantasy trilogy; that seems a natural. Also, romance novels in any given sub-genre, given the rapacious nature of its readers, would be a good fit.
Kelly: It’s important to keep the tone consistent in your bundle. Don’t bundle fantasy with romantic suspense, for instance. It takes time to create bundles. Use your time wisely. Three is a nice bundle, but I’ve seen authors do two-book bundles (say, a story and its sequel.) Authors also bundle 10 or more. Neil bundled nine in his golden retriever series — quite a haul for readers!
3. How do you set pricing?
Neil: Amazon lowers the royalty percentage for books over $9.99. I usually use $6.99 — that’s a bargain for three books that are usually $3.99 or $4.99 each. But most of my revenue from bundles comes from Kindle Unlimited, not from sales.
Kelly: If you’re a big gorilla, you can price your bundle high. But for the average Joe, you have to make the reader feel they are getting a deal.
4. How do convey that it’s a box set instead of a regular book?
Kelly: The most important thing you do is make sure the image you upload to Amazon or others looks like a 3D box-set (as opposed to a flat cover). Remember, the first thing a potential reader sees is this image. I designed all our individual covers. But when I went to design the box-set image, I knew it had to look like a realistic box-set that you’d have on a bookshelf. I tried it first in photoshop but it looked amateurish, so I invested in a template specifically for this.
Neil: I use a 3-D cover that shows the front cover of the first book in the series, with an extra ribbon that indicates it’s “Books 4-6 of the Have Body, Will Guard series.” Also you can see the titles of all three books on the spine.
5. Can I do this myself?
Kelly: Yes, of course. But even if you are proficient in cover design already, it’s still a bit of a learning curve. Or hire someone to do this for you. I have designed all Neil’s covers and his box-sets. Formatting the books in the bundle is not hard if you’re used to formatting already. But it is time-consuming. You must combine three manuscripts into one file, and that can be troublesome. You’re now dealing with a 900-page file vs a 300-page file. Chapter headings can move, double breaks go crazy, and the tables of content can be a headache. If you have trouble getting professional looking interior ebooks, consider buying a template for that as well. Don’t wing it. Once you get the hang of a good template, you’ll be happy.
Kris: Back to those covers: Ugly covers signal amateur hour. If your covers are ugly, consider rebranding all your covers first before bundling.
6. Do I leave my individual books up if I upload a bundle?
Kelly: Absolutely. It’s one more product on your shelf. At the supermarket, you can buy one roll of toilet paper or 12. So it should be with your ebooks.
7. Is this really for me?
Kelly: If you’re like us, and your books have been out there for while, it spices up your bookshelf. If you are very prolific, like Neil, and have a several series and multiple stand alones, bundling them up can really expand your publishing real estate. Don’t let the possible problems intimidate you. Think creatively. You can bundle anything — and rebrand old material — if you pay attention to imagery, tone and genre.
5. What about bundling with other authors?
Neil: I have thought about it but haven’t found the right partners. Also the royalty accounting can be complicated, especially if your income is going to come from KU, since there’s no way to tell “which” pages the reader read.
Kris: This can get really messy in terms of dividing income and promotion duties. Whose publishing account will the box-set be loaded onto? Who gets the income and makes sure it is divided fairly? (Amazon allows you only to have one person on an account.). How will you handle this come tax time? Really do your homework if you are considering this. Get a legal partnership agreement. Kelly and I have one, and we like and trust each other. What happens if you and your box-set partner have a falling out? Marriage is beautiful. Divorce is ugly.
Our Louis Kincaid bundle goes live this morning. $6.99. Such a deal. Click here to check us out.
I’m totally unfamiliar with this process but I found it interesting that you have to combine the books in your bundle into one single file. I never thought about what the process was but somehow I would’ve figured that in this day and age you’d just go to some dashboard and click the 3 titles (or however many) that are part of the bundle. And poof! It’s done. Just goes to show I have lots to learn. Thanks, TKZ for tackling all these topics!
I’m right there with you BK. My sister is the techie (note play on Star Trek there!). But we had some experience under our belt by formatting, designing and publishing our titles individually. So this was just the next step. And yeah, ST was the best evah!
I did my own formatting for a long time and had tons of problems with things like starting every chapter on the right-hand page.
Eventually I hired a lovely woman in Czechia to do the formatting for me. Costs about $50 and she makes them look lovely and handles all the problems that Kris and Kelly mention about page breaks chapter headings, with one great big table of contents at the end.
P.S. Yes, treasure those original series Star Trek CD’s. The best & most quotable show ever!
I’ve got several box sets, and they do well. One caveat about covers unless you’re exclusive to Amazon. Apple won’t accept anything that looks 3-D, even if it’s just a flat cover with images of the print books as part of the design. D2D even has a new section where you can upload a different cover to Apple to comply with their rules. I went into more detail here.
Thanks for the info and link Terry. Anyone considering this should go read her blog on the subject.
Many thanks, Kris, Kelly, and Neil! Bundling has been on my to-do list for some time. Your post just pushed it higher, right after the launch of book #8 in my series.
Question: several years ago, I read Amazon doesn’t like the term “boxed set” but I don’t remember who said it or why. I think the preferred term was “gift set”, “bundled set”, or something like that. Have you run into any problems with that?
Going to grab a bundle of Louis!
FWIW, Debbie, I use the term “collection,” which has worked well for me.
Thanks for the tip, Dale!
Great post, Kris. I’m a believer in bundles as well.
I have my first three Empowered novels available as a boxed set, and had my designer do both 3D and 2D covers, so that it would fit the varying retailer requirements. I priced this at $6.99, but then applied for a Book Bub Featured Deal at 99 cents back in 2018, and did quite well by it. I repeated that in 2019 and 2020. Between featured deals, the price would be at the full amount, but I still made the occasional sale. I also have the entire five novel series, plus the prequel novella, as a “complete bundle,” which I released at the end of 2021, at $9.99. That one has tended to sell better on the other retailers, especially Kobo.
I still have all five available individually, with the first one, Empowered: Agent, permanently set to free.That first one is also included in a six-author bundle, Shadow Magic, all free book ones. For bundles priced at something other than free, Draft2Digital now allows payment splitting. I have a novella in a collection, High Moon published through D2D with payment splitting and it works well.
Looking forward to picking up your bundle.
Thanks for weighing in, Dale, with your experience. As we are so new to this, I was hoping those with more experience would offer advice.
Thanks for this great post, Kris. Good information.
Atticus and Draft2Digital have the tools for formatting the interior of a box set (PC). And Vellum does for Apple/Mac.
Where are the best places to formatting the images for the bundle/box set?
Kelly will be here shortly, Steve. I’m useless on this. She’s on her way home from pickleball.
Here’s one, Steve: https://covervault.com/6-x-9-book-box-set-psd-mockup-template/
Kelly here. I used Cover Vault but I am sure there are more. CV also offer some freebies for things like if you want to display your paperback & iPad/Kindle in one picture. They offer several different formats and I downloaded the one for Photoshop. Once in Photoshop, it’s pretty easy. He has also a teaching video to use.
Thanks, Harald and Kelly!
Good morning, Kris. Great information about bundling. (Btw, I think your husband and mine may be related. 🙂 )
I put together a box set for my three mystery books last year. I had gotten the rights back to the first book earlier in the year and uploaded the ms into Vellum. Since I had already formatted the other two books in Vellum, it was easy to concatenate them all into one file. I have a wonderful cover designer who created a beautiful new cover that incorporated parts of the other covers. You can see it at https://www.amazon.com/Watch-Mysteries-Books-Kay-DiBianca-ebook/dp/B0BNQ876KY
Like Terry mentioned, Applebooks won’t take the boxset image, so you have to upload a flat cover for them. Grrr.
When I promote any single title, I usually price it at $0.99, giving me a whopping 35% royalty on Amazon. But with the boxset, I can promote it at $2.99 and get a 70% royalty. I’ve done a couple of promotions that went well.
Re the royalty. This is why it makes so much sense to bundle even if you have the individual books up as well. Why leave any money on the table?
Very interesting, Kris. I’ve got a time-travel trilogy (series) this could work for but I always thought one could just buy the whole series in one shot (Amazon exclusive). Just looked and nope, although maybe they took that option away?
And I notice that everyone seems to show their bundles/box sets as hardbacks. Why is that? If it’s only available as ebook, why not show it as such (e.g., 3 phones, tablets, etc.)? Just wondering.
P.S. As of now, your 3-book bundle is not showing on Amazon U.S. nor is the link for it working on this post.
Why show them as book images? Good question. I think it just conveys a more reader-friendly image. Anyone who is looking for ebooks knows it’s not a paper-book.
Thanks for the link alert. Will tell Kelly.
Thanks for the information, Kris. I clicked on the Amazon link and it gave me “This site can’t be reached” too.
Link is fixed! Thanks to all who notified me. I TOLD you I’m bad at this stuff….
Good blog, Kris and Neil. My agent has republished most of my mysteries, and uses bundling. It works well. I see both your books offered online. Much success.