Obvs I'm back, and I'm really excited to be taking part in the inaugural, What Works - Online Marketing Sypmposium. What is an Online Marketing Symposium?
Per Arlee Bird, Yolanda Renee, Jeremy Hawkins, and Alex J. Cavanaugh, the masterminds behind the event:
"We want you to tell us your stories of success (or not so successful) as we present a blogging event that will help us learn. Tell us about a marketing idea that you've used and what worked or didn't work. Your post could describe a campaign that succeeded in a big or small way or one that failed drastically. Tell us about a business campaign, an organizational event, a fundraiser – anything where a bit of promotion was necessary! The What Works.. Marketing Symposium is not limited to authors but also to anyone in a business that has a promotional aspect – online or otherwise!"
For my part in the event, I've decided to share what I know (and maybe don't) about offering up your work for free. So let's get to it!
Ever met someone with a really nasty reputation that you've only ever talked about (not to) and thought hey, they aren't that bad. Then you get really confused and conflicted about what all the fuss was over. Free books are a lot like that.
You'll hear all kinds of things about free books, bad and good.
They're undermining the value of all of our work, because readers won't want to pay for books once they're accustomed to them being free.
They're just desperate attempts to get noticed by fledgling authors.
Only amateurs offer their work for free.
If it's free, it must be crap.
Free book promotions rocket people to the top of the Amazon charts.
Many successful authors have become so by building off of free books.
Every other industry (including traditional publishing) uses free promotions to "hook" consumers, so it works.
On and on it goes, and like all reputations, there's partial truth in all of the rumors. Giving things away for free CAN deteriorate the perceived value of a product in the eyes of the consumer. There ARE a lot of crappy free books out there. Lots of very successful authors HAVE used free book promotions on their way to the bestseller lists (M. Louisa Locke being one of my favorite indie success stories). Letting consumers sample a product for free IS a tried and true marketing technique.
So what's the real story? Are free books good or evil? Answer: Definitely. (Go ahead, throw something at the computer and curse E.J., I'll wait...)
Here's what I know for sure:
Free Books Are Not A Magic Bullet - A year (or two) ago, Amazon allowed free books to inhabit the same bestseller lists as paid books. As a result, if Free Book X got a ton of downloads and went to numero uno in the Kindle store, it was up there ahead of the big girls and boys (the Grishams, Rowlings, Kings, Browns, etc. of the world). In those wild days, a successful free ebook could easily get the attention of millions of readers.
Nowadays that's not the case. Amazon (and most online vendors) have changed their algorithms. A rocking free book is going to get noticed, but it's not going to get the star treatment. Which leads to...
Free Books Are Tools, Not A Toolbox - You can't build an entire house with only a hammer, and you can't build a writing career with a single free book. A free book is best used as part of an overall strategy, not as THE strategy.
The authors who seem to be using free books most successfully are those who have multiple works out--particularly in a series. It's merely a gateway into their other work.
I write a series of urban fantasy novellas. There are five of them out, and I keep the first one permanently free in hopes that readers will sample it and move on to the next in the series. (I'll share my own findings in a list below.)
Don't Be Free Just To Be Free - ALWAYS have a plan or a point to your free books. Is it permanently free to hook readers into a series? Is it a onetime promotion to try to get your book in front of new readers? Whatever the reason, just make sure there is one.
The Clever Mouse Gets The Cheese - Being creative with your free book is as important as having a marketing strategy (see also - not being free for the sake of being free). Use holidays to your advantage (i.e., if you write horror, consider giving something away around Halloween). Band together with other authors to give your book away as part of an organized "event" of free books to increase exposure. If you write novels, consider creating a novella or short story to offer as a freebie sample. If you have a free book coming out in a series, celebrate it by offering previous titles free for a limited time.
Also recommend using your free books in conjunction with other marketing things. If you've got a big blog tour coming up, it might be a good idea to offer something free on some of your bigger stops.
Knowing The Rules Wins The Game - Every online retailer has different policies regarding free books. Amazon doesn't allow them, UNLESS another site is offering the same book for free. Then, customers can report the difference in price and (once enough reports have been received and the great Amazon Eye of Sauron has investigated) Amazon will price match. (That's how my first Moonsongs story is permanently free incidentally.)
The other way you can offer your book for free on Amazon is by enrolling it in the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. In exchange for offering your book EXCLUSIVELY on Amazon for 90 days, they let you pick 5 days to offer it free.
Smashwords, on the other hand, allows you to price your work at whatever you'd like (they even have a setting that allows the reader to donate whatever they think it's worth). You can also use coupon codes to give your work away free on Smashwords.
Understanding the rules, and then taking advantage of them, is key to making free books work for you.
Utilizing Free Book Promotion Sites Is HUGE - Readers love books, especially when they're good and free. Surprise! Consequently, a poop-ton of free book promotion sites have sprung up. Basically, readers follow these sites and get updates when popular books go free.
It's the best way I've found to let the world know your book is free for a limited time. Unfortunately, other authors also know this.*shakes fist at other authors* :) As a result, the really popular free book sites have been inundated with requests to feature books. So there's often a waiting list and an application process to get your book featured.
To further complicate things, many of these sites aren't exactly clear on how they pick the books they feature, so it's kind of a guessing game once you apply. A few things most of them require: 1) A set number of positive reviews for your book--usually 10-15, 4 star or better reviews are required. 2) The exact date your book will be free. 3) Cover image, description, category and genre, links, and possibly author bio.
There are lots of these sites now, and the best way to find them is via word of mouth (ask other authors who they've used) and a quick Google search. Also, I recommend the shotgun approach. When you've got a plan for your free book promotions in place, apply to as many of the sites as you can. You likely won't hear back from several, so it'll decrease your chances of striking out completely.
NOTE: Several of these sites charge to promote your book. I cannot speak to the viability of these specifically, but as with all things be wary of who you give your money to. Ask around first.
E.J.'s Free Book Story
As I noted earlier, I've made the first story in my Moonsongs series permanently free on Amazon and Smashwords. It has been that way for several months now. Since it was price matched, it has consistently stayed in the top 20k free Kindle books (out of the few million that are free, so I'll take it), and spends most of its time in the top 10k.
That has not made me rich or famous. :) But it has, I believe, resulted in more sales of the other stories in the series. (Things have been a lot more consistent since it has gone free. Prior to that, most of my sales came during the release month. Now I get downloads trickling in every month.)
Before being permanently free, I enrolled it in the KDPS program. I coincided my free days with stops on a blog tour I was doing at the time, selecting the biggest blogs to have as my free days. I had more downloads of the story that month than I've had combined since. So it was a success. (Looking back, I got very lucky I think.)
I recently enrolled my Moonsongs Anthology (books 1-3) in KDPS to take advantage of another blog tour. The results, although not as good as last time, were still great. Hoping to see some sales for books 4 and 5 in the next couple of months as a result of so many downloading the anthology. (Many, many readers download and stash the books until they have time to read.) I'll be sure to let y'all know!
What about you? Have you used a free book promotion? Was it helpful?
There are lots of folks sharing tips and experiences just like this today, so be sure to hop around (and join in)!
Online Marketing Symposium Blogs
1.Arlee Birds Tossing It Out
2.Yolanda Renee at Defending the Pen
3.Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh
4.Jeremy Hawkins at Being Retro
5.Insecure Writers Support Group
6.Blogging from A to Z Challenge
7.C. M. Brown
8.Aloha! Mark Koopmans says hi from HI
11.M. J. Joachims Writing Tips
12.Spunk On A Sticks Tips
13.Ink & Alchemy
15.J. L. Campbell
16.WRITING IN THE CROSSHAIRS
20.Notes Along the Way - Mary Montague Sikes
24.Sandra Ulbrich Almazan--Speculative Fiction Author
25.Livia Peterson - Leave it to Livia
27.The Write Game
28.The Open Vein - E. J. Wesley
29.Tyreans Writing Spot
30.Sydney Aaliyah Michelle
31.About Myself, By Myself
39.Trisha @ WORD+STUFF
40.Angela Brown in the Pursuit of Publishness
43.Cold Lake Cathy
44.Official Site of Horror Author Alex Layourne
47.The Musings of a Hopeful and Pecunious Wordsmith
50.Steven Symes, Writer
51.Meetings with My Muse
53.Sand Castles and Snow Forts
58.The Story of a Writer
61.Carrie-Anne's Magick Theatre
62.Coming Down the Mountain
63.Im hoping to learn
64.From Sarah With Joy