Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reporting back on "Freebies"

I promised a report back on putting a book up for free on Kindle. Now my publisher has done this successfully for my standard-published book-- seriously. Coming off the few free days last Xmas and this, the book sailed into the top 100 paid in Kindle (the first year into the top 5), and into the top 10 for the genre. But I am not sure it works that well for individual direct publishing.

Still, I gave it a try for one book. To do this as a direct publisher on Kindle (other platforms work differently), you have to join the "Select" program which means Kindle has the book exclusively for 90 days.  I did it with a book I'd just put up without much history attached, figuring I don't yet have much of a sales record with the other platforms, so I wouldn't be losing much. This program lets you put the book as free for up to 5 days.  I put it free for 2 days, then returned it to the standard price.

Results: Still coming. I sold -- actually sold, not free-- about 50 copies (a lot so far for me) of the book in the week after it went free. Also I sold 20 copies of the "prequel" to the book and about 50 copies of other books of the same genre I had for sale. Not the sort of revenue to fund my next trip to England, but better than I had been doing before.  So it was worthwhile.

There were about 2500 free downloads (in contrast to last year, when my free book got 100K downloads-- but there weren't so many free books then). I think Kindle owners (esp ones who got the Kindle for Xmas) were trying to get books for free while they could, and saved them to read later. (That's what I do, anyway.)  So far, I have almost no new reviews on the book site, which is disspiriting. But maybe those will come.

So here are my thoughts, what I did right and wrong. Understand, YMMV, and all that, also I think this should have a long tail and could be months before all the benefits are realized (so I hope).
1. I chose the book pretty wisely. It's a good book, well-written, representative of the genre (Regency) but not confined to it. (There's Shakespeare and adventure for those non-genre fans who dl'ed it.)
2. The book is a sequel to another book already up for sale, so I put a note in the end that if they want to find out how two secondary characters met, they should buy (title). I think that led to a sudden spurt in sales of the second book.
3. I have several books for sale. If someone reads the free book and wants to read more of my work, they can quickly (immediately) buy the others.  I had a list of the other books there at the end of the book and a link to my Kindle bibliography page.  Some authors put their first book up for free to  "build name recognition," but I think we're all into instant gratification these days, and will be disappointed if there are no more books available, and might not remember the name a few months later.
4. I wish I would have put a short (1 page maybe) excerpt from another book in the end of the free one. Not the first page, maybe, but an exciting later moment.
5. I did put a pleasant "author's note" in the end, asking them to review the book on Amazon if they liked it because that really helps an author. Clearly, so far, this has had no effect. :)  But I do think we might need to work on helping readers to want to review!
6. I also included a bio with my website, blog, and email info. Again, I'm hoping to make readers feel benevolent towards me!
7. I am going to work more on the blurbs/descriptions. The great thing about direct e-publishing is that for almost no cost (the book isn't available for sale for a few hours), you can fix or change almost anything. The Indie Romance list I'm on has been discussing how many "buyers" of the free books are annoyed at the bad writing and editing of many of them and are coming to assume that free books are lousy. Well, maybe if I put in my blurb that the book is by a "RITA-award winner and bestseller," they will have more confidence that at least it will be a literate read.
8. Two days was a good amount of time. However, the downloads really tapered off the second day, so I can imagine that one day free won't have that different a result. We shall see-- will investigate.

So... worth trying anyway, at least if you have several books up for sale.
Next time I'm going to try putting out a short story on "permanent free," as a loss leader to attract the sort of readers who will like my other books. Some said that readers don't like short stories (even free?), so I'm trying to get together a Regency anthology, free, that each of us would place on our sites to promote all our works.

Anyway, we'll see. I know it CAN work because it worked with my standard publication. So let's see how well it helps get my name out there to my targeted reader.

Anyone else trying this method?


gaylene said...

I'm glad for the update. Very interesting stuff. I'm not ready to publish anything quite yet because, like you said, it's important to have more than one book out there.
I'll definitely review your book when I finish reading it! thanks for sharing your journey with us.

Wes said...

Very interesting, Alicia. Great marketing research. Please keep us posted on additional developments. Do you think offerring free downloads for a limited time would be a way to demonstrate the appeal of a book to traditional publisher?

Alicia said...

Wes, I think everything with traditional publishing is in flux. It used to be they wouldn't look at books that had any previous publication, especially self-pubbing. But now those who sell in the high thousands are getting calls from publishers (cf Amanda Hocking).

However, I doubt free downloads will impress publishers. After all, some of us will take anything that's free, so the number of downloads doesn't really say much about how many copies will sell. I'd say go the traditional route of approaching the publishers either directly or through an agent.

I think in this time of transition, we should probably commit to one initial approach for each book-- either commit to the process of getting a publisher, or self-publishing. I wouldn't mix the approaches with one book, at least not at this point.

What do you think? I'm just worried if you have it for free and then take it to the publisher, they'll say you've already reached the easiest sales.

Gaylene, thanks! That will really help. I was just in a class that said we should aim for 25 reviews of each book, and I thought, boy, do I have a long way to go.

Reina M. Williams said...

Thanks for this info! You are among several who've had positive results of some kind. I'm doing a freebie on my Regency(on Kindle) this weekend and am curious to see what, if anything, happens.
And I agree--I don't think free download numbers would mean anything to a publisher.
Also, I sympathize about the reviews. :)

Edittorrent said...

Reina, we should comment on each other's books! I'll see if I can find yours== post the title here for me?

Alissa Grosso said...

Great information. Thanks for sharing this!