book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

So does free work?

free

Does it work to make your book free? The question arouses much debate, some of it passionate, and I’m not going to attempt to provide a yes or no answer. Many writers refuse to give their work away as a matter of principle, a position I fully respect, and in an ideal world, would prefer to adopt myself. Because writing takes time and effort, and working to give a product away isn’t something that’s done for cars, cucumbers or cupcakes, so why do it for writing?

The short answer is to gain visibility. Without visibility, selling your work is extremely difficult, but giving it away is easier. You might have a good cover and enticing blurb, but convincing people to fork out money on a totally unknown name is a challenge. But if you give them something and they like it, they’ll be more prepared to buy what you produce next. Or so the reasoning goes.

So this is what I’ve been doing. And since I promised a while ago to provide a few figures, here they are.

I made One Green Bottle, first in the Magali Rousseau mystery series, permafree on Amazon in September 2017. Since then, it’s been downloaded roughly 4600 times. Now, that’s all fine and well, but I have no idea how often it’s been read, or whether it’s disappeared into the welter of free books people have on their kindle without ever getting round to reading them. I’m not averse to seeing it downloaded free, but it would be nice to know if it actually gets read. However, that’s the same for most books, free or otherwise – feedback is rare, and once a book is out there, the author doesn’t know what becomes of it. The bottom line is sales figures.

Has the permafree book had any effect on sales of the others in the series? My guess is not, or minimal. It’s difficult to tease out sales resulting from my launch efforts (which so far are basically restricted to informing the 400 or so subscribers who open my newsletter) and the knock-on effect from the permafree. But if I take away sales occurring at launch time, the rest is a monthly trickle that falls a good way short of keeping me in coffee.

Am I despondent? Not at all. There are several factors that go against me. Firstly, I didn’t plan the series properly, so the third one I published was in fact the second one in Magali’s chronology. OK, Star Wars does that all the time but it’s confusing all the same. Secondly, I revised One Green Bottle so there’s a major difference in the current version compared to the initial release – also confusing. Thirdly, the covers, while fine in themselves, don’t correspond to the norms for the genre – they’re all being redone now for the release of a box set, so I’ll see what difference that makes. Did someone mention a learning curve? I’m still climbing steadily.

Of course, making a book free doesn’t mean that it will instantly become visible. You then have to let people know that it’s free. To that end, I enrolled Mystery Manor, the last in the series, in KDP Select, and then made it free for five days, which can be done once in any 90-day period. I then booked a slot on Freebooksy, who announced it to the 310,000 mystery novel readers they have on their email list. The result was just under 4000 downloads. And here there was a small but noticeable knock-on effect: apart from another hefty boost to the free downloads of One Green Bottle, there were 41 purchases of Cash in Carry, number two in the series (priced at $0.99), and 11 of Perfume Island, number three, priced at $2.99. The royalties covered roughly half of the $90 I paid for the Freebooksy slot.

I take some encouragement from this. Because again, the process could be improved – to enrol the last in the series in KDP Select when none of the others have been was illogical. But I’d always been reluctant to give Amazon the exclusivity they require for KDP Select, so it took me a while to take that step. I still don’t like it, but the fact is that I’ve made slightly more from Kindle Unlimited page reads than from sales.

The final verdict? In my case, the jury (composed of me and myself) is still out. But with better planning (conception and promotion) of the new series, and a greater backlist to offer, I should see a larger knock-on effect. On current evidence, it’s not worth making the first in the new series permafree – one seems plenty for that – but well-planned free promotions every so often might just do the trick. It’s a hard slog, because for every person who’s ready to pay for a book, there are a hundred freeloaders. But that’s the way it works – like panning for gold, you have to get rid of the silt and gravel first. And I’m an eternal optimist – there’s a lot more I need to do, but when I get to 10,000 subscribers, I hope to have enough nuggets to pay for my coffee.

 

Standard
book promotion, book reviews, publishing

Strategy update

front cover2

I’ve been busy. Still am, but starting to see the end of the tunnel as regards my marketing strategy. The first tunnel anyway – there are lots more to come. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

Using Draft2Digital, I’ve made One Green Bottle free on Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It was up there already but shifting no copies, so it’s not much of a change. Now I need to write to Amazon to ask them to match that price, i.e. have it permafree. They’re under no obligation to do that, so I don’t know how they’ll respond. But they’re well aware that many authors do this as part of their marketing.

I’ve written Making a Murder, six essays about the writing of One Green Bottle, which I’m offering free to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. The offer is at the front and back of One Green Bottle, so anyone downloading it has an incentive to sign up and I get their email address, which obviously I can’t get directly from Amazon. I don’t know if Making a Murder will appeal – it’s not fiction, and the essays are humorous, so it’s a gamble. It would probably be better to stay in the same genre, which is what I intended, but my novella, which was to serve that purpose, needs more work.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my mailing list. I had around 700 subscribers after doing a joint promotion and a giveaway (many more from the first than the second) and I then sent different messages according to whether they opened my first email or not. I offered Perfume Island free, prior to its release in November, and removed over 200 subscribers who didn’t open that email. Of those that did, 112 signed up to receive the book.

That’s a lot of giving away of two books that have taken me five years to complete. Not so long ago I’d have thrown up my arms in horror at the very idea. Now? I’m quite relaxed – 112 reading the sequel is 3 or 4 times more than read the first. Not all will like it and of those that do, only a few will write reviews, but I’m still at a stage when I need to reach out to those few.

The worst part of all this work? Converting Making a Murder to epub and mobi formats, which I have to do if I’m sending it out myself. Converting a text is fine – Calibre handles that easily. But getting a text with pictures just right is a challenge. Or a nightmare, depending on your mood.

From time to time, I step out of my marketing bubble and see that the world continues to turn and hurricanes to blow. I’m working on a third book in the series, which I hope to bring out before the Apocalypse.

 

Standard
book promotion

Marketing update

repeat

A short while ago I announced I was doing a giveaway. It ended on 5th July, so here are the preliminary results. In fact I also participated in a cross-promotion in which 20 mystery and suspense authors made their books available free on Instafreebie, undertaking to promote the offer to their mailing list.

The giveaway was costly – the value of the prize plus promoting the giveaway itself came to over $200. I’d hoped for a minimum of 200 subscribers; I got 97. Conclusion? Not worth it. Especially when compared to the cross-promotion, which cost me nothing (Instafreebie offer a free trial for a month, after which it’s $20 a month if you want to collect the email addresses of those who download your book).

The cross-promotion brought in 576 subscribers, meaning I now have upwards of 700 altogether. In three years of blogging, I laboriously reached 65, so the sudden influx is massive. Is this the way forward? Everyone says so.

Now the challenge is to convert those subscribers into readers, and ultimately readers who’ll want to pay for the next book in the series. I’m approaching this with some trepidation – send out too many emails, be too pushy or adopt the wrong tone, and they’ll unsubscribe. So far, my unsubscribe rate is under 4%, which is healthy. If it goes up to 7%, Mailchimp (free till you get to 2000 subscribers) suspect you of spamming and send you nasty warnings.

A lot of people, of course, don’t even open the emails. Or don’t read the free books. Or if they do, don’t pay for the next one. So only a tiny proportion of subscribers will become your followers or fans. How tiny? Only time will tell. But at least it feels like I’ve got some sort of traction, a sense of control over a process which has hitherto been random and wasteful. If I convert just 5% of subscribers into followers, that’s 35 – not a lot, but still way more in a single month than in three years of effort up to then. So what do I do next? Rinse and repeat.

 

 

Standard
book promotion

Ill-defined and disreputable?

novella

‘Sir, what’s the German for notice?’ ‘Notiz.’ ‘No tits?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Really, sir? None at all?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘You just said, “No tits”, sir. Do mean, like, absolutely flat?’ ‘Any more of that, Bausse, and you’re in detention.’

That this and similar episodes are what spring to mind most readily when I think of German at school may well mean that my mind is as puerile now as it was back then. Nonetheless, by way of association, and with much effort, I recall other details too: the scarred wooden desks, the dingy yellow walls and the hapless features of Mr. Graham, whose life we made such a misery.

Also a book with a pale blue cover, The German Novelle, which presumably I read. Like pretty much everything else I studied at that time, I don’t remember a thing about it, except that the Germans were the first to take the novella form, originally established in Italy, and turn it into something with a specific set of characteristics, different from those of the novel. Notably – and here I turn not to my memory but Wikipedia – it is ‘restricted to a single, suspenseful event, situation, or conflict leading to an unexpected turning point (wendepunkt), provoking a logical but surprising end.’

Importantly, length is not a criterion. A Novelle could run to several hundred pages. But these days, when we use the word novella in English, length seems to be the determining feature. And I must admit that when I set out to write one, what I had in mind was something in the order of 30,000 words. But to reason only in terms of length would be a mistake, and run the risk of validating Carl E. Reed’s apothegm of wince number 69: ‘A novella is a book that ran out of steam.’

Stephen King has called the novella ‘an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic’. This hasn’t prevented him from writing several himself, though he points out the difficulty of selling them in the commercial world, being too long for a magazine and too short for a book. While this may indeed be a drawback, it makes the novella an ideal candidate for self-publishing, where a common strategy is to make it free in order to draw readers in to the rest of a series. This was indeed my reason for writing Closed Circle. I’ve read of that strategy many times – now I aim to test it out myself.

Not for a while, though. Because although I’ve finished a version that might pass muster, I’m not satisfied yet. It needs a good dose of improvement, for which I’ll need to let it simmer subconsciously – or whatever books do when we’re not actually working on them – for a couple of months or so. Basically, I didn’t realise when I embarked on it how hard it would be. All writing, of course, turns out more difficult than the initial vision promises, but I grappled with this one a lot. Not that it ran out of steam, on the contrary – it’s got a bit too much. I need to tighten the valves a bit, fix a gasket or two. It might gain a few thousand words in the process, but that won’t matter. It’ll still be a novella, because strangely enough, without thinking about it, I ended up with something close to the definition in The German Novelle. Maybe I did remember something more than the German for notice after all.

Standard