We've all heard the stories of authors putting their books up for free, clocking thousands of downloads, and then once the promo is over, selling thousands of copies. One author I know about bought a new car after her free promotion. Another paid off her mortgage.
Well, guess what, that doesn't happen every day. It depends on the book, the genre, the writer, why you're doing it, as well as the day of the week, and the position of the moon. Yeah, no not really, but luck like that is very rare. Also a back list is worth a thousand downloads.
I'll tell you my story, and you can decide if you want to put your books for free or not.
We all know I write Regency romance. In the beginning I wrote a novel -- THE LADY'S FATE. But I didn't know how to promote it. I decided to write a short story to give away as a loss leader. You know, like the prize in the box of Cracker Jacks. Give something else away for free, to get them to buy what you really want them to buy.
I gave away A WIFE FOR WINSBARREN when I launched LADY'S FATE. This was before the days of Amazon's KDP Select. It was a win-win for me. When I launched THE DUKE'S DIVORCE, I also gave away copies of A HUSBAND FOR MISS TRENT. Another win.
All my books shot up in the rankings, got me sales, made me delight in my forethought and cunning that I was so smart to do so. I thought I was the golden child of the Regency world.
But all that soon came crashing to a nasty halt. Amazon caught on to the game (If you uploaded to another venue, Smashwords for instance, and offered your book free before they went to Premium status, the spam bots at Amazon couldn't track you.)
Last December they decided to install KDP Select. Which would give you the option to offer your book for free on Amazon for 5 days. It also allowed its Prime members to borrow your book for free, but you would still get paid. Which sounded like a good deal. Everyone was still making money, and you could also use those 5 days for a loss leader promotion. It was only 90 days and if you wanted to re-up or not, that was your decision.
Well, the first month, everyone and their brother tried it. It worked for me too with WINSBARREN. I took it off Smashwords, enrolled it in KDP and although I never put it for free (as I had already done so) I did get a lot of hits off the Prime membership.
But now, we come to the big bad Amazon (in March) changing their algorithms. (Okay does anyone know how to spell that word? Really? I've seen it spelled like 3 different ways.)
For those who don't know what algorithms are, I don't actually know either. But to hazard a guess, it's a scientific analytical spreadsheet that marks (in Amazon's case) how many books are sold by genre, by price, by author, then makes calculations based on how, when, and where they're selling, then takes all that information and plugs it into another spreadsheet and figures out who's going to sell more, who's going to buy more, and who's going to make more money. (Amazon.)
Anyway, once Amazon plugged FREE into their algorithms, authors were shooting up to #1 with a bullet. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone was doing it. Authors were getting on lists, authors were selling more books, people were reading more books. Amazon was making more money. (Because that's what Amazon does.)
But then, as with every good thing that's too good to be true, authors began to suffer from lackluster sales after their free promotion. They'd hit #1 or #2 during, but after, nothing. You know why? Because everyone else was giving their books away for free so why should they buy yours. People were grumbling, authors were in uproar, marketing analysts were writing articles in the NYTimes and Huffington Post. Oh my.
So here we are, 8 months after the initiation of the KDP Select program and what's happened is Free is now the norm. Authors who are having lackluster sales decide to offer their book FREE in the KDP Select program after it's been out for awhile. You know what that does. Makes people wait to buy your book. Because they know eventually, it will be free. That's why there are lackluster sales. They're waiting. Everyone loves a bargain.
Free is what you make it. In my opinion, offering a book free at the launch would be the way to go. Making that free list, getting higher in the rankings, garnering some reviews. Then set your price and stick with it. (Which is what I did with REMEMBERING YOU. I'm waiting for the dust to settle and then once I have all my notes in place, I'll tell you what happened with that book. Probably in late August, early September.)
In my opinion, once you publish a book, instead of trying to sell it forever, write the next book. If people buy your first book and like it, they want more. It's called a fan base. (Unless you have a 1000 followers on your blog and Twitter, you don't have a fan base yet.) Perhaps write a short story and offer that as Free, possibly for the launch of the next book instead of the book itself. It couldn't hurt. And besides, how long did it take you to write the 80k words in your novel? How long did it take you to write the 15k words in your short story, or 25k words in your novella? Which would you like to take a loss on?
I think, and again this is only my opinion, now that Amazon has changed its algorithms again (June) free is not what it once was. Sure it might get you to #1 for a few days, but after that, you go back to where you used to be. Rankings don't follow the free promo anymore. So save yourself, and your sanity. Think about your loss leader before you go offering anything for free.
And again, this is only based on my experiences on what I've done. Comments, questions are welcome. No spam please. Next week I'll discuss price points.