Lizzie Lamb: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

A very personal perspective of indie publishing

Lizzie Lamb Nov 13

When I self-published Tall, Dark and Kilted (October 2012), there was much talk of Amazon changing the algorithms.

The what?

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.newromanticstwitter

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.

BookCover Boot Camp BrideFast 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 whoTDK BookCoverPreview (2) 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



Lizzie’s Links




twitter: @lizzie_lamb             twitter: @newromantics4

45 thoughts on “Lizzie Lamb: No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

  1. Morning, Lizzie, and thank you for such an in-depth view of the amazon world. I have 2 books with a small e-publisher who send them to a list of review sites, but I still have to do a lot. It is a mixed bag in terms of take-up. It’s hard work at times. I find it very annoying to be asked whether my book is free as if that person would have gone out to his day job for love only! Good luck with the new one. Love your covers. Anne Stenhouse

    • Thanks for commenting, Anne. other than giving away a couple of novels on my website once I get a newsletter up and running I hope I’ll stick to my guns on this one. I hope I’ve been able to help other authors out there with what I’ve learned. Good ;luck with your writing.

  2. Thank you to the lovely Romaniacs who’ve produced such a great blog post. I’ve been checking through my AMAZON stats for the last year to see when/where the highs and lows occured. It turns out that everyone loves a price reduction, especially on dot com. I think that is the way to go. I’m taking advantage of Amazon’s latest wheeze “Kindle Count Down” and have reduced Tall, Dark and Kilted to 99p for a week (that’s all you’re allowed) to see if it’ll boost sales of Boot Camp Bride. I’ll let you know !!

    • Hi Carol and thanks for joining in with my Tweetathon last night. The things we authors do !! As I say in the blog, I’ve learned by reading the blogs written by American authors – I find the links on twitter. One really insightful British indie writer is Terry Tyler, I’ve learned so much from her. I bet you’ve seen her on twitter, too. Good luck with your new novel when you launch it in December 🙂

    • Hi Margaret, thanks for commenting. I’m glad you found my post informative, is it a VERY personal view and not everyone would agree. But every author’s experience is different, isn’t it? Good luck with your writing, too.

  3. Hi Lizzie, I did 3 days of free KDP Select downloads a couple of weeks ago followed immediately by 3 days of a 99c/77p sale. I prepared for a month or so beforehand. The results were that I ended up at #2 in the PAID charts for two Love & Romance categories (and #1 in the free charts in several categories). I was amazed at how few sales could catapult a book in to the top 10. 😉 So, whilst I now have an ‘Amazon bestseller’ on my hands I only made about £56 which doesn’t even cover half of what I paid out to big sites to promote my sale days. I’m pretty much done with the writing world now. I’m going to be doing a lot less to promote the book and myself as there is little enjoyment left in it for me, and I start a new job in a couple of weeks time so I won’t have time anyhow. I wish you well with your second book. 🙂 X

    • Alice, there is nothing I can teach you about promoting your book as you are fabulous at it. In fact, I’ve learned so much from you and I’m glad we found each other via Twitter. You are so kind and generous with the time you expend on giving other authors’ books a shout out that you deserve any success that comes your way. There are no hard and fast rules about ‘what works’ and what doesn’t. Maybe when you’ve had a break away from it you’ll feel that need to start writing again. Self promoting is SUCH hard work and at times you do wonder – is it worth it. Thank you for your insightful remarks. See you over on twitter and facebook, I hope.

  4. I’ve always resisted the free promos. I’m afraid I take the view that it devalues the work a writer does. You are right, Lizzie, it takes a year to write a book why should we give it away for free. My plumber, joiner, electrician doesn’t work for free, and I can’t go into any shop and expect them not to charge. So, if anyone’s marking time on my books waiting for the free offers they’re going to have a long wait. I would much prefer to do the slow crawl to the better sales.

    • Chris, you’re right. You’ve been writing a lot longer than me and have a more global view of the whole process. When I first self published everyone was egging me on to ‘do a freebie’ as it seemed to be what everyone else was doing. Looking back, I see that I had missed the bus – never mind the high speed train, on that one! So now its down to ‘cawing canny’ as we Scots say and using other means to promote my work, gain more readers and get number three written. We are both members of the Famous Five Plus group of indie writers and our blog is a great help in that respect. Thanks for commenting and good luck with your next crime novel.

    • Thanks David. I think the days of instant success and stardom through amazon and their algorithms have long gone. I;’m going for slow and stead and trying to build up my readership and establish myself. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Lizzie, what a wonderfully honest, refreshingly candid, and totally astute summation of the publishing environment we all face. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are a rock star, and I wish you every success with both books, but especially your newest baby. Rock on!!

    • Thanks you Nicky, you have been an inspiration to me !! Just wished I’d started the whole indie thing earlier and not spent years writing and re-writing those first three chapters for agents etc. But as my mate June Kearns says: no writing is wasted. And she’s right. Onwards and upwards and good luck with your latest novel – loving the cover, BTW.

  6. Really interesting post, Lizzie. It’s a jungle out there and you need to know your stuff as well as write a whopping good book to find your way through it. Lucky you’re good at both! Good luck with Boot Camp Bride. x

    • Thank you for your lovely, positive remarks. It’s going to take me a long time to recoup what I’ve spent on this enterprise but I still love writing and I’m going to keep at it.

  7. A lot of wisdom there, Lizzie. Have to say, I’ve been very grateful for all your research. Thanks are surely also due to your hard-pressed research assistant, sitting at his laptop – head down, brow furrowed – beavering through those statistics! Your success has been hard won, Lizzie, and is so well-deserved Here’s to the absolutely fabulous Boot Camp Bride.

    • Thanks June. You know the journey all of us have taken to have two published novels in our hands. Yes, you’re right, all power to my dear husband, aka Bongo Man, who spends hours on his laptop – with a parrot on his shoulder – figuring out the mystery that is amazon stats, rankings, categories, sub categories and tags. Long John Silver had it easy !!

  8. With you all the way. I have noticed that even when my publishers do a cut price day / few days, my sales rocket and I’m a happy bunny. Of course I’m only seeing a few pence per book and the minute the bargain sale ends, so the figures drop.
    Alice H, I don’t have another job to go to but I totally understand how you feel.
    Very best wishes for success, Lizzie, I really am not sure which way this crazy publishing world is going but it’s not our way and that’s for sure.

    • Thanks Ailsa. I know of some indie writers who HAVE given up and who can blame them. And I totally sympathise with Alice H. I’ve kind of done it back to front; did the day job for 34 years and then started writing when I retired. When I was gathering together all my expenditure to fill in my first ever tax self assessment form recently I was staggered to see what I’d spent establishing myself. Another reason why ‘free’ is no longer an option.

  9. A fascinating, and interesting article. Like you I am self published, and also like you I will not be offering my works for free again. I have to admit though that I have great problems with pricing. At the present time all six novels are less than £1 in the UK. I have experimented with higher prices, but sales are slow. perhaps they are slow anyway. Anyway I wish you well.

    • Thanks for commenting, John. From my limited experience I can see that ‘genre’ affects pricing as much as anything else. Book length doesn’t seem to have an impact with readers, either. One very successful indie writer I know says that she wouldn’t pay more than £1.99 for any kindle download. Maybe she has a point?

  10. Hi Lizzie, thanks so much for sharing what you’ve learned about promoting on Amazon. Promotion is such hard work sometimes, and yet you always appear enthusiastic and cheerful 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading Boot Camp Bride and wish you well-deserved success!

    • Thank you for your kind remarks, Helen. As I’ve stated here (and in other places) its always been my dream to be a published writer but the dream was put on hold for so many years while I pursued a career that paid the mortgage. So now I’m living the dream and how ever hard it is, I’ve chosen it – so I don’t grumble. But I know exactly what you mean. Self promo is a killer at times. I hope you enjoy Boot Camp[ Bride – I loved writing it, and that’s really what matters in the end.

  11. Excellent, inciteful blog Lizzie and yes right there with you, what rookies we were (still are!) but gave it all a go to get things off the ground and yes, in many ways it worked for me too, especially ref. US.

    I was talking to a highly knowledgeable publisher yesterday who was amazed at some of our initiatives, but coming from a non trad pub background we just went for it, including old school PR with thank you letters and mentions from royalty (sorry Mags) and celebs, selling tickets to our events, organising competitions, literary lunches, jumping on aeroplanes and going to talk at a couple of book clubs abroad. We just said, let’s do it, and we did!

    But Amazon is moving and shaking all the time, it’s a global marketing beast, and it makes sense to try to keep abreast of how the organisation is changing, with even minor tweaks making a big difference. I genuinely feel supported by Amazon too, it’s success is ours and vice versa. And I think an author going it alone and doing all this single-handedly deserves a huge pat on the back, I could not have done any of it without the New Romantics 4, and there’s so much more to do. Bring it on.

    Good luck with Boot Camp Bride, Lizzie it’s a great read and hopefully see as many like-minded stars as we can at the Festival of Romance, in Bedford, next weekend!

    • Ade, you have worked hard to make OUR collective dream come true. I know now that I was wasted as a teacher (just kidding) I should have been in PR. But, in many ways, teaching has been a great grounding for me as I flicked the switch when I retired and brought those skills with me into my ‘second’ career as a writer. We’re learning together and, although amazon has its failings, without it we wouldn’t be attending the festival of Romance at the weekend with our new books.

  12. Hi Lizzie, What a thought provoking take on the labyrinthine world of Amazon promotion. I know how assiduous you’ve been on going into all aspects. You know what you’re talking about which is born out by what AliceH has to say, I believe. Must say, I’m with Chris Longmuir on free promotions so . . . Looking forward to an entertaining read of Boot Camp Bride..

    • Thanks Mags. I know how hard you’ve worked at your craft to make your book the best it can be. All of which enhance the reputation of you (and us) as indie publishers. I think the general consensus is that free books can work really well FOR SOME, but in the end they are devaluing the currency.

  13. What a fascinating post and how generous of you to share. As a reader, I do agree with you, I have downloaded quite a few free books and sadly some of them were so awful it put me off. I now stick to tried and trusted authors and recommendations by people I know. Of course Tall, Dark & Kilted is a paid for on my kindle and I’m looking forward to Boot Camp Bride. Good luck with it.

    • Thanks Jules. I was writing a blog post for someone else last week as she asked me who else I read apart from the BIG names in publishing. Like you I stick to tried and tested, other RNA members (including self published members like me) and personal recommendations. When I was writing Tall Dark and Kilted I read some real ‘stinkers’ which were set in the highlands of Scotland and seemed little more than thinly disguised porn involving men in kilts. Thank you for choosing Boot Camp Bride, I hope you aren’t disappointed.

    • Thank you for inviting me onto your fabulous blog. Still waiting for the cake – what went wrong there? See some of you at the Festival of Romance and good luck to anyone who’s been nominated for an award.

  14. Very interesting post Lizzie. I offered one of the anthologies as a freebie a couple of times in 2012; both times I got big spikes of downloads, but no effect on subsequent sales. Cutting the price to 99p did have an effect on sales but not the three times growth that is needed to overcome the cut in royalties from 70% to 35%. I’ve decided to leave the price as it is and concentrate on visibility instead. [I also have concerns, like some of the others above, about giving it away for free and the effect that will have on readers who have already paid full price for it.] I’ve pulled out of KDP Select altogether, since I prefer to have distribution on all the other sites (Apple, Kobo etc) via Smashwords and you can’t do that if you are tied in to Amazon exclusively.

    I agree with your comments on Terry Tyler, a very generous and experienced lady. Have you also come across Molly Greene? And for statistics on ebook sales, keep an eye out for Mark Coker.

    • Thank you for commenting Elizabeth. I will certainly keep an eye out for those other two writers. Terry will be guesting on my blog at the end of November talking about Twitter tips for beginners. Regarding ‘freebies’, I learned today that Create Space is now offering its Extended Distribution facility for free (it was $25). I’m convinced that visibility is the key and that’s down to honing those categories and doing things to your profile that makes it ‘ping’ with Amazon. Good luck..

  15. What you have said, Lizzie, makes good sound common sense and I’ve learned a lot from it. Not that I’ve got to the self-publishing side of things yet (apart from a selection of short stories) but I will definitely not be offering for free after your wonderful advice.

    • Anne, my pleasure. Maybe you should investigate indie publishing yourself? It is a giant step but worth it, in my opinion. But each to their own :-).

  16. Thanks for this post Lizzie 🙂 I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase exposure for my books. Free promos definitely did nothing for me in terms of sales afterwards or new reviews. The only thing that has worked for me is getting my books featured on e news reader today, but I had to drop the books to 99c to get on there. Anyway, thanks again. Off to find you on twitter and facebook now 🙂

    • Glad I’ve been able to help you. As I said, those readers who have kindles full of unread novels will never go onto to review them. In fact, they seem to take a delight in leaving one star, nasty reviews. Why would they do that? Go figure. .

  17. Anne, I know we spoke at the conference about self-publishing versus waiting for the ‘contract moment’. Whatever you decide in the end, I’m glad I was able to give some information which might help you.

  18. I agree with the freebie thing. I stupidly did it a few weeks ago when everyone around me started dropping their prices and I though a freebie would lift my profile. What a mistake. My raking dropped with that particular book dramatically. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on readers response. if everyone stayed with the same price we could all make a living. Instead people are giving books away and what’s happening, the readers are just waiting for the price drop. I’m not giving in to it if I can help it but it is hard when you feel shoved into dropping so you can sell books.
    I’d love to hear any tips or what you find out about categories as the whole thing is a mystery to me. You’re welcome on ‘My Meeting the authors’ post anytime and vice versa if you can put up with me. xxxxxx

    • The whole categories thing isn’t rocket science but its hard to explain succinctly on paper. Telling is never as good as showing, is it ? I’ll give it some thought and maybe post something on my website detailing what I’ve found out. But I am no expert, I’ve simply learned by reading blogs, watching and then doing. ‘ll let you know when I do.

  19. Wonderful advice Lizzie, as you know I’ve decided to experiment with my current title and to be honest I do miss having ‘other people’ sorting out the whole ITIN etc etc thingy, but then I spoke to a lovely lady in Pennsylvania called Miss Watson and after getting what I needed she said a breezy. ‘Go get em sweetie’ So I’m going to go get ’em’ and have fun doing it. It’s a learning curve and advice like yours is much appreciated. Many thanks.

  20. Hi Caroline. Self publishing moves so quickly. When the New Romantics 4 published this time last year word was only starting to emerge about getting an EIN over the phone from Philadelphia as opposed to getting an ITIN from the US Embassy in London. It is now becoming more common place. Adrienne Vaughan and I are appearing on a panel at the Festival of Romance this Saturday with Talli Roland and Tracy Blythe talking about what we’ve learned about self publishing. Should be interesting.

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