The hardest part of writing for an Indie Author is finding an audience. You could write the best book that the world has ever seen, but unless you’re able to find people to read it nothing will become of it. It’s daunting in the best of times, but now that the world of publishing is open to anyone with a good idea and an internet connection, getting noticed in a sea of enterprising writers is a huge challenge.
Enter free books.
The strategy of offering a book for free, particularly if it’s the first book in a series, has been a fantastic way to reach out to that elusive sea of readers to introduce them to your work. There is no risk involved in free. A reader can download something from someone knew and take a chance on it. If they don’t like it, well, they got their money’s worth. And if they do like it then they’ve got a favorite new writer. It’s a win-win situation, right?
Sure it is.
It’s also not the magic bullet that it used to be.
Once upon a time, back in the fledgling days of free book promotions, offering a book for free (particularly on Amazon) was a sure way to boost your sales by the hundreds, or even thousands. The number of downloads a free book would garner could bump it up on the best-seller list to the point that even after the promotion ended authors would experience a surge of sales. Authors were super happy and their wallets a little fatter.
But in recent weeks Amazon changed their algorithm and the effects of free days changed with it. Many of my writer friends have noticed a drastic decline in the number of sales they receive after a free promotion. Like, from hundreds to single digits. Others have noticed that their book did not receive the ranking jump that it formerly had. It seems possible that Amazon isn’t counting the free downloads as sales when it comes to rankings. Or perhaps there is some other really math-y explanation for the change that I will never understand.
The long and the short of it is, free book promotions aren’t doing for an author what they used to do. In fact, with so many authors offering books for free across so many platforms, it makes me wonder if any kind of free promotion is as effective as we think it’s going to be.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not against authors offering their books for free. In fact, I’ve done it myself before and I’m planning to offer The Loyal Heart for free again during the week of my birthday in July and once again around its one year anniversary in September. And last time I offered it for free I saw an increase in sales of the second book in the series along with a dramatic rise in the number of ratings it received on iBooks (of all places). So free book promotions do work.
However, if the point of offering a book for free is for a new author to get noticed in the sea of indie authors, and if there are so many thousands of books being offered for free every day, then how effective is it for an indie author to jump from one giant ocean into a slightly smaller but still crowded sea?
The answer is that it’s at least a little bit effective. Sales and exposure do increase. But not the way they used to. These days it takes far more than a free book promotion to rocket sales to the place that we all, as proud authors of fabulous books, think they should be.
Of course the other side of the coin, one that has been debated so much that I don’t feel the need to do more than touch on it briefly, is what the glut of free and extraordinarily cheap books does for book pricing across the board. Free is hard to compete with. Are we devaluing our creative work in an attempt to push a quick sale? I don’t know. Based on the advice of Mark Coker in his book The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success I raised the price of my books to $4.99 out of curiosity to see how it would affect sales. Short answer, it didn’t change the number of books I am selling one way or another, but I am making twice as much money.
But I digress.
Should you run a free promotion of your book?
In my opinion, yes. If only to test the waters and see what happens. Will you reach more readers who you wouldn’t have otherwise? Yes. Will you see further sales once the promotion has ended? Yep. Should you expect to sell thousands of extra books and make enough money to buy a car and a vacation in the Bahamas? No way. Not at this point.
But who knows? The algorithms may change again. As more readers purchase Kindles and Nooks and eReaders a whole new crop might catch on to the free book craze.
So what do you think? What is your experience with free book promotions as a writer and as a reader?