Yes! The numbers are (mostly) in at last and I can tell you all the story of the most nail-bitingly terrifying and outrageously successful book promo that I’ve ever done! This was the big one, folks. This was the one that changed everything, hopefully permanently. Here’s what happened….
So for my birthday I decided to run a little promo. I had read months ago in The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords that a good free promotion should last at least a week. I had done a mini free promo of the first book in my medieval romance series, The Loyal Heart, over Easter weekend and saw a handful of extra sales. Cool! So taking what I knew from the book I planned to extend that a little more.
On about July 14th I set the price of The Loyal Heart at free on Smashwords. Yay! In the next couple of days I saw some downloads. Twenty, fifty, up over a hundred. Awesome! I was pleased. Sometime at the beginning of the week the book went free on iBooks. Now, because I distribute through Smashwords I couldn’t see the exact number of free books I was giving away, but I did notice that I was suddenly getting more star ratings. A handful a day as opposed to one every month or so. Okay, that must be good. A day or so later, The Loyal Heart went free on B&N. Still hard to tell exactly how many copies were being downloaded, but my rankings were inching up, so that was nice.Then came my birthday. I had been getting a lot of star ratings on iBooks, so I went onto my iTunes product page to see what the specifics were. Well, a LOT of the ratings were 5 stars. A couple were one or two stars. Sweet! Bad ratings mean legitimacy! Then I went looking for my ranking. Lo and behold, I was in the top five books for What’s Hot in Historical Romance! These are not just free books either. It was ALL Historical Romance. On Saturday I was at number one. I then spent the next week hovering around on that list in various spots. Very, very cool. But I still had no idea what the numbers were.
Then it all blew up. I awoke on Tuesday morning, July 24th to notice that The Loyal Heart was suddenly free on Amazon through price-matching. Yes, you don’t have to be a part of KDP Select to have a free book on Amazon. The thing with Amazon, however, is that you can see your book sales/downloads in real time. When I first looked at the page it said 151 free downloads. I clicked over to Facebook and about a minute later I went back to Amazon. The number was at 163. I blinked. 12 copies of my book had been downloaded in one minute? I clicked refresh. The number jumped to 169.
By lunchtime it was at 1200. The next morning it was over 3000. By the weekend it was at 20,000. By Monday it was 36,000. I hit number two on Amazon’s list of free Historical Romance downloads, number one in Historical, and I topped out at number 9 on Amazon’s top 100 Free Kindle Books. During the time The Loyal Heart was free on Amazon I averaged at around number 20 on the list of Top 100 Free Kindle Books. That’s for all genres combined.
Fantastic, right? Well, sort of. The problem was that I had no idea when it was going to stop. No control whatsoever. The numbers were so mind-blowing that I became obsessed with checking them. Every hour or so I would feel the insane pull to look online. It wasn’t comfortable at all. It was all a little like being in a runaway train and not knowing when it was going to jump the tracks or fall off the bridge. And then came The Bad Review. Because the thing about having a popular free book is that people download and read it who don’t actually like the genre or the premise. They’re just reading it for free. Whether they “get” it or not is another story. And still the book continued to be free. Even though I was ready for it to stop. For the love of God, STOP already!I set the price back to normal on Smashwords on Saturday, July 21st. By the end of the next weekend Smashwords’ price distribution engines had finally gotten the message across to iBooks and B&N. The book returned to its regular price of $2.99. It took about two or three days to have it switched from regular price to free, but it took over a week to have it switched from free to regular price, about three times as long. But it was still free on Amazon.
That’s when I started noticing sales of the second book in the series, The Faithful Heart. Free books are one thing. People forking over $4.99, yes, $4.99, not $2.99, for the sequel is another thing entirely. That was the true test. It started with a sale here or there. Then those sales picked up to high single digits per day. Then they moved into double digits per day. Something was definitely catching on.
After eight days of being free on Amazon because of price-matching, The Loyal Heart finally returned to regular price. So what was my total free download number on Amazon? Just over 42,000. Total free downloads on B&N was about 2000. Apple hasn’t reported free downloads yet, but I’m going to make some assumptions and estimates based on where it was in the sales ranking all that time and say that I probably had over 50,000 copies of The Loyal Heart downloaded across various retailers during this promo.
What about residual sales, you ask? Everything I’ve heard from my fellow Indie authors who have done a free promo in recent months suggested to me that the moment the promo was over the numbers for The Loyal Heart would drop back to what they had been before. Yeah, that’s not what happened. Since the book went back to full price on Amazon on August 1st, I have sold for real cash money well over 200 copies. Since the start of the promotion I’ve sold over 400 copies of The Faithful Heart on Amazon and over 100 between iBooks and B&N. Oh yeah, and several copies of Our Little Secrets on all three of those platforms as well. I keep waiting for the momentum to slow down. It hasn’t yet. It might at some point. Or maybe it won’t.
To all this I have but one thing to say: WHAT THE HECK????? What did I DO????
And you may be asking yourself, what did you do that I can do too?
The truth is, I have no earthly idea what I did. I can tell you this much, I did several guest blog posts in July, The Loyal Heart was reviewed in In’Dtale Magazine right before the promo and was featured on Romcon.Inc during the promo, and as soon as it went free in all its different locations I posted the link on Twitter and to all of the Facebook groups I’m a part of. But that’s it really. I don’t think I did anything drastically different than anyone else. Maybe I somehow pleased the algorithm gods?
I will tell you one thing that I did do. I wrote the best book I could. I had it professionally edited and I had a professional cover design created for me. Never underestimate the power of professionals to do what they do best.
But I will say this too: Not knowing how long the promo was going to run or how many bad reviews I would get out of it was absolutely terrifying. I do not enjoy being out of control like that. It was incredibly stressful. So was my temporary addiction to checking numbers and reviews. It reminded me of my days suffering from anxiety disorders.
So would I do it again? No and yes. I don’t think I will ever offer The Loyal Heart or any of the Noble Hearts trilogy for free again. But once I have all four of the books in my Montana Romance series published I do believe I will offer Our Little Secrets for free. But I will expect it to be free for about two weeks. Also note, I won’t do it until the entire series is finished. Why? Because as fantastic as my sales have been this month, I’m kicking myself for not waiting until The Courageous Heart was published as well. Then readers who got hooked on the first book could have bought the entire series instead of having to wait. Lesson learned.
So the moral of the story is that free sells. Oxymoron, I know, but it’s true. Did I devalue my work by offering The Loyal Heart for free as many of my fellow Indie authors (who I absolutely respect to pieces) like to argue? I don’t see how when hundreds of people have been willing to pay $4.99 for the second book in the series and hopefully the third when it’s out.
And maybe it was luck that put me in exactly the right place at exactly the right time across three different platforms, but that’s the kind of luck I will take any day. Well, I’ll take the luck and I’ll take the royalty checks that I will be getting this fall.
UPDATE: A wonderful writer friend of mine shared with me today after reading this post how she had posted the link to a review she had done of TLH all over Twitter via Triberr and on a Reddit message board for free book links. I believe that this really helped the initial download spike, which probably seriously helped the algorithm and enabled the book to get such a high ranking so soon. So when and if you do your free promo, be sure to post the links to your book on as many free book sites, message boards, and Facebook pages as you can!