I was reading the Amazon KDP forums the other day when I saw an author lamenting the lack of sales after a free promotion. The author of the post was Michael W. Parres (whose book is titled "Shades of Retribution".) Here's a snippet of what he said:
"After one day of posting, you register 350 downloads, and gleefully wait for the “promotion bounce” to generate expected sales. Unfortunately, your hope is quickly dashed, with zero sales."He concludes in the post:
"Amazon’s “free book” promotions (along with allowing free book pricing outside of promotional schemes) have pulled millions of potential buyers out of the e-book market, thus reducing demand for books that carry a price. People have become conditioned to pay nothing, or very little for the pleasure of reading an e-book. To quote a friend: “Why should I pay for a book, when there are tons I can get for free?” "
I wrote a long response that, upon reflection, could be useful to the writing community at-large. Not that people read this blog in droves. Still, better than buried as a comment on forum.
The free model for obtaining books has existed since the dawn of reading with the invention of libraries. Free gets people talking. Free gets people reading. The KDP Select free periods are excellent in garnering reviews, sales, etc. - if you do it right. You only got a couple hundred downloads. That may seem like I'm tossing off a decent number... but actually, that number might as well be zero. Allow me to expand.
There are people out there who reap every free book that come out hourly on Amazon's top "free" lists. They select specific categories and just download the top 100 books of that category, then move on to the next. By weeks end they've culled thousands of books. To what end? You might ask. Wouldn't they not have enough drive space for this? You follow with. The answers are simple: they delete after purchase and the more free period books they snatch and delete, the more they can browse the Kindle library at their leisure and redownload any books that might interest them that were previously free... without having to purchase. I know of a few people that claim to run bots that do this. There are also many many people who regularly trawl the free list and get bunches of books with the intention of someday reading them in the future. But they are usually lying to themselves.
If you only get a couple hundred downloads, you might as well have gotten zero. It's no wonder it didn't result in sales for you. Most self published authors regard the free promotion as a set it and forget it kind of thing. Sure, they'll share the link on their twitter. Maybe they'll post it to facebook, too. But that's about the same as shouting in the mirror. You may feel like you look good doing it, but ultimately you're talking to yourself.
The benefits of putting your book out for free, even if it isn't part of a series, is numerous if you promote it correctly. Here's just a few benefits (assuming you can get up to 1,000 downloads or more during your free period):
- Purchases of other books of yours that aren't free if you have any
- Money from Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Online Lending Library (you get your royalty if any of those free downloaders lends your book and someone reads more than 10% of it! This accounted for about a quarter of my earnings in September, for example.)
- Improved position in searches for keywords (this is an oft overlooked thing for people taking advantage of free periods)
- Improved population in 'Also bought' lists (The more downloads you get, the more you'll be populated with more popular books)
and more. That's just the base of the mountain.
Instead of lamenting about free, you should view self publishing as a game. Since your end goal seems to be sales, this is important. (People who publish for the love of writing needn't worry about playing the game.) I will outline what the game is and perhaps you'll give another crack at going free for two or three days and see how it goes.
Level One - Preparation
Another bit of preparation is participation in online groups. Go to Facebook writers groups. Find some reader clubs. Go on reddit and participate in some of the chin wagging there. Make friends. This will require at least a months preparation for people to get to know you. I wrote a blog post about a few places I posted when my book was free (it's an earlier entry but easy to find) -- use some of those links and make your face a familiar one on those pages or sites. People will be more keen to reshare / repost / etc. if you are known to them and help them out, joke with them, and have fun.
Level Two - Charting and Keywording
Two authors, seen here, hammering away at the competition.
The night before your free promotion, you have some things to mull over. Chief among them? What keywords do you want to chart with. I wanted to beat out the competition and be tops when people searched for "Writing Prompts". Go to amazon now and type in Writing Prompts. See if you can find my book of 1,000 awesome writing prompts. (Keep in mind, before I decided to view this as a game, I was content with being on page 15 overall.) How did I start to climb the rankings? I had researched and read countless blog posts and one made mention of adding keywords you thought people might search for at the end of the url. So, for me, it was &keywords=writing+prompts -- does it actually work? Some people argue that it doesn't. I feel I've logged enough proof (also on my blog, I did a live experiment) that seems to prove otherwise. Just think of the phrase people would likely use to find a book in your genre and go for it. People tend to not type more than two word phrases so keep it simple!
Next up is charting. That's where you climb up the ranks of your category and get as giddy as a schoolgirl the higher you climb. My last adventure with free saw me at #331 overall and #1 in the highly competitive Writing Skills category. If you're able to chart highly in a category, this will result in more downloads from people who only browse the top ten free of a particularly good category.
How can you control that climb? Well, remember level one? You're going to first ask friends and followers on twitter and your personal facebook page to share your url (Remember, include those keywords in that url!) Then you wait an hour. Then you perhaps post on one or two (not ALL!) facebook groups that you're a member of. Then you wait an hour. Then you post on one of the social media sites like Reddit's "freeebooks" subreddit. Then you wait an hour. Then you post a little something on another subreddit and one other facebook group you haven't hit yet. Then you wait. Get the pattern? Why wait, some may ask. Because, my friend, there's a thing called time zones. Smattering your links across a wide swath of places and times will result in more people seeing your link. Remember, this is a game, you need to be crafty!
Level Three - Final Level!
Curse you, AAA! How do you always get the high score?!
Think of the # overall position free your place on a scoreboard for a video game. When you play a video game, do you try to only aim for 1,000th place? Or do you want to be in the top 500? Wouldn't the top 100 be better? Top 20? #1? Every time you do a KDP Select Free period, try to get a better position than before. Write down things you felt worked and things you felt were a waste of your time. Try to replicate what seemed to give you a boost and multiply it be researching more. You'll need to do more than one free period to maximize that free period bump. There are millions upon millions of books on Amazon. What makes yours better? Refine your blurb. Make it something you'd read. Be sure you're working on an Amazon Author Central page. Add some particularly good quotes from 5 star reviews to your AAC book page as well. If you're gunna play the promotion game, you're gunna need an attractive and irresistible product.
I've gone on way long here. But I hope I've given you a different perspective on how I view free periods. I self published at the end of April for the first time ever. I put out a softcover version of my book at the end of August (I should have done it sooner!) I sell about 100 copies of the ebook a month. My primary focus has now been promoting the softcover (I devised a different game for myself for that.) Last month my softcover sold 77 copies in total. A record. But guess what, I kept plugging away. It's paid off. So far this month (13 days) I have not only passed my 77 in a month record, I'm at 120 softcover sales. I fully believe that with patience, planning and proper execution, one can see brisk regular sales. Keep challenging yourself. Keep reaching for the high score.
Then you'll get to do it all over again with your next book. But, hopefully, with the added benefit of loyal readers.
Pretty much this.
And remember, many people first discovered their lifelong favorite authors when they first read a book for free from the library.