No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
A very personal perspective of indie publishing
When I self-published Tall, Dark and Kilted (October 2012), there was much talk of Amazon changing the algorithms.
My head was so full of ITIN/ISBN/W8-BEN/uploading/downloading that there was no room for another buzz word. So I filed it away to be examined at a later date and concentrated on launching Tall Dark and Kilted and organising five book launches with the other members of my indie publishing group: The New Romantics 4.
When the furore of publishing day and book launches abated, I decided to ‘get my name out there’. As a result, I signed up for KDP Select and offered my novel for free download for five days in late December. My intention was to make the most of the pre-Christmas kindle sales and hope that people who were giving kindles as Christmas presents might download my novel and give it a temporary fillip.
It was a widely held belief – at that time – that if you made your book available for free download it would rocket up the top 100 list and become more ‘visible’. The book would then ride on the crest of the wave and continue to sell after the ‘free’ period ended. And indeed, it did work that way for me. Over a two day period, Tall Dark and Kilted ‘rose’ to #1 in contemporary romance, #3 in best seller free kindle store (UK) and #25 throughout all books and #9 in contemporary romance (US). All of this was achieved without any promotion whatsoever on Twitter, Facebook et al. I took the novel off free download after two days as I’d given away 12,000 ‘copies’. In retrospect, I should have let it ride for the full five days to see where it would have ended up – and to give myself greater exposure. After all, I was doing this as a sort of ‘experiment.’ Although I quickly disappeared from the top 100 (the algorithm, see), I continued to sell well throughout January, February and into March. I did especially well thanks to ‘borrows’ on the Kindle Prime Loan – which I hadn’t really considered when I joined KDP select.
Fast forward a year and here I am, about to publish my second novel: BOOT CAMP BRIDE – romance and intrigue on the Norfolk marshes. I’ve been considering all options available to promote it and the thousand dollar question is: Would I make Boot Camp Bride available for free download?
The answer has to be an emphatic NO – and here are my reasons. The algorithm has changed and free downloads no longer count towards your overall amazon ranking.
(1) Smart readers know that most books will be free at some point and wait for that to happen.
(2) Some readers have up to 400 free books on their kindle which they have no intention of reading, let alone reviewing. If they don’t read your ‘free’ book, how will they learn about you as a new author, let alone be prepared to buy your next book.
(3) You may attract readers outside of your genre/readership simply because the book is free. They may hate your book and give it lower star rating because they didn’t ‘get’ you, your novel or your genre.
(4) It makes more sense to target readers who purchase books in your genre and build up a readership/following through social networking and word of mouth. I find this is working really well for me, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, my blogs/website and guest appearances on other writers’ blogs.
(5) Some pundits believe that free downloads don’t work for new authors because they don’t have the necessary readership/sales to keep the book at the top after the promo ends. In retrospect, I think this is probably true.
(6) I think the amount of free books being given away can be detrimental to authors overall. I mean, come on, anyone who isn’t prepared to pay 99p for something that may have taken up a year (or more) of your life isn’t going to stay with you for the long haul.
(7) There is a common perception that free books may not be very good, are unedited/proof checked and the rest. If a writer has offered free downloads in the past, some readers are prepared to sit it out until the author’s next novel becomes available for free download too.
So – How am I going to promote my next book and the one(s) after that? Why, by making Amazon notice me!
I’m exploring ways of making my book ‘ping’ with Amazon and increase its visibility to readers by: new review postings, changing categories, honing sub categories, keywords/phrases, changing the pricing, updating the ‘Product Description’ to over 500 words, and asking friends to put it on their Amazon ‘wish list’ or to ‘LIKE’ it on my page. I’ve also learned that it’s better to have a slow drip of reviews than have them all arrive on your Amazon page within the first month of publication and then never receive another. As an indie author I can do all of the above with my book without waiting for an agent/publisher to agree and give me the go-ahead.
I’ve learned a great deal from reading blogs posted by writers in the US (who are often a year or so ahead of us in understanding how Amazon ‘works’). It will be interesting to see how Boot Camp Bride fares compared to Tall, Dark and Kilted. Watch this space; but above all, download my new novel – it costs less than a cappuccino and won’t be ‘free’ this time round. (end of sales pitch!)
Other authors might have a different experience to mine. So if you have something to share, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.
Boot Camp Bride – Romance and Intrigue on the Norfolk marshes – November 2013
Tall, Dark and Kilted – Notting Hill Meets Monarch of the Glen – 2012
twitter: @lizzie_lamb twitter: @newromantics4