Saturday, May 19, 2012

Something For Nothing?

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum Marketing. I sold 150 times as many books last Wednesday than I usually do on Amazon Kindle. I say sold, maybe moved units might be more germane. For they were all free of charge to the, um purchaser.

I wasn't doing it as any promotion. The book, an anthology of flash fiction, has already been out for 9 months. The organiser of the inaugural flash fiction day asked if me and others would consider making our anthologies free as part of the events of the day and I said yes. Without imagining any consequence of just such a move, for I simply wanted to contribute to the day dedicated to promoting the profile of the flash fiction art.

I had to seek his advice as how to make one's book free, since I'd never done it before. First thing was I had to enter the book into KDP Select, which was something I'd also studiously avoided as I couldn't see its relevance to my work. After that the process was quick and easy, but I'd been advised that the timings of the 24 hours of your offer were taken from the US not the UK. I resolved that in order to ensure that the full scope of the 24 hours of National Flash Fiction Day were covered by the offer no matter where you were in the world (sorry Australasia, not sure if I covered you entirely), I actually set it up for two days, the 15th and 16th May.

So the offer went live sometime on the 15th May. I made not a single plug or announcement of the offer on the 15th, since to me it really concerned the 16th May's festivities. (I covered the 15th to ensure people in the Uk could get it for a full 24 hours of the 16th, being 5-7 hours ahead of the US). There was a link from National Flash Fiction Day's own website, but again it was trumpeting launch day of the 16th. And yet lo and behold lots of units moved on the 15th. Mainly in the USA it has to be said.

So what did that suggest to me? These purchasers could only have come by the book and the offer by trawling for that day's free books. Perhaps they did this every or most days at least. Perhaps they do it once in a blue moon when they need something to read and America being so large, this was the cohort who just happened to be looking on this day and in categories pertinent to my book. I wondered if those same people surfed on the 17th May, using their same search requirements of genre and the like, whether they would have bought the book for its modest price of $2.89.

Once the day of the 16th dawned, then the British take up of the offer started to catch up to the US one, though US sales continued to tick over. That was unsurprising since National Flash Fiction Day, though international, originated and centred in the UK. I even appeared in the upper reaches of the charts of Literary and short fiction on Amazon Kindle UK, which was nose-bleed territory for me. I'd never even bothered to consult them before. I was just below the likes of Victor Hugo which seemed fair enough to me.

That started me thinking about the whole question of promotion through freebies. My book appeared in the free chart and would no doubt disappear within 24 hours once the offer had ended. Therefore how much of a boost could that inject to its profile? I suppose if one were able to link it in to other things such as a press release, a video or live reading it might engender a bit more sustainability. But otherwise, nice as it was, I couldn't quite see the long-term benefit.

But then there is the greater boon of my work being introduced to 150 new readers. Even if only 5% of them were to read and review, that would represent an enormous and lasting boost to the book's profile on Amazon. But of course I have no way of knowing who these purchasers are to gently nudge them via social media. Particulalry those Americans who bought before the offer was advertised. I do have more idea of some who might have interacted through National Flash Fiction Day's site, plus of course my own endeavours via social media.

So what are the benefits to promotion from day long giveaways? Apart from getting your work into the hands of more readers, I'm not sure there are any useful ones. And while any writer welcomes more readers, I do wonder if the way of Amazon and Kindle shopping means there is a tranche of readers who maybe only want something for nothing?

In many ways I have no problem with that. Many of the stories in the anthology first appeared on my blog where they were therefore available for free. If a writer only writes to be read, then maybe we should give our work away for free (although there's still no guarantee that the book will reach an audience, though the evidence above suggests it probably will). But then what price art and artists in this? A writer is to make no money from their endeavour? Maybe that's how it is to be, a return to the days of the tribal storytellers around the campfire, entertaining their kinsfolk but maybe only for the price of their meal cooked on the spit.

We write because we love it right? That we choose to spend time at the keyboard rather than go out drinking with mates or seeing a movie. Do we expect to be remunerated for our time? I do think that art suffers when it is entirely drawn into a commercial nexus. That is when the main considerations have to be about commerce rather than artistic content. But maybe I'm deluding myself. Here's an earlier post on the issue of art and artists.

I'd love your responses to this as I'm genuinely rather baffled by the whole experience.


  1. I've been thinking about similar things recently. When I had my Kindle I went on a glut of downloading free stuff at first. And you know what - I've still not read all of it, and a lot of what I started to read I didn't like so I never finished it.

    Nowadays I tend to be picky about what I purchase, knowing that time is the real cost - reading one book stops me reading another, and at some point I'll die with books still unread. So I don't want to waste my time downloading stuff *just* because it's free. I want to download stuff I want to read, regardless of price.

    And that's the key question as a writer - how many people are even reading all this stuff they download for free?

    And as an author my own experience of 'free' has not had much impact on sales of other books. But other authors I know swear by it. I suspect it depends on genre and other things like that. I hope it works out for you though..!

    1. Thanks James. Yes there are too many books that I'll never get to read on my list even, let alone hoovering up free ones.

  2. I've read many accounts of authors who swear by the KDP program, that it increases their exposure, garners them reviews, ratings, actual sales, etc. I do agree with James, however, that this is probably strongly genre dependent.

    The authors I've heard tout the KDP write erotica, romance, and/or erotic romance. These genres are notorious for having readers that consume books at a voracious rate, and I imagine that ties into the benefit the authors reap from the program.

    Perhaps that's where the correlation is. That the KDP benefits genres with heavy readership. I'd be interested in getting the actual numbers on downloads across genres, but I doubt Amazon would share those ;)

    1. Brilliant thanks Ais. I'm certain it does vary with genre, but I did this thing sort of blind, not really as a promotion at all. Besides, I'm not sure flash fiction has penetrated the collective consciousness enough yet for it to constitute a genre like say short stories have, although publishing keeps telling us that short stories are a really hard sell these days.

  3. Your experience and your relfections upon it match mine. It was sort of fun, but not significant. Like you I write for the love of it - it keeps me alive in all senses of the word. I'm weary of se;f-promotion - mine and others.

    1. Thanks Anne. The more I think about it, the more Amazon KDP turns literature into a popularity contest a la TV talent show, because it is all about visibility of the author/book, rather than anything to do with the content. That's always been a factor to some extent throughout publishing, but Amazon's utter commercialisation of it all has exacerbated things. And yet Kindle is the only way I can get my work out into the public domain in an integrated, coherent manner. I'm biting the hand that if not feeds me, at least burps me...

  4. I've used four of my five free giveaway days. I found that, after this last giveaway, my sales are steady. I haven't given anything away this month and my book has hovered in the Top 100 of the scifi/hi tech category. (I think you are correct when you say that certain genres do better as ebooks than others, and I actually took this into account when writing this book.)

    I consider the thousands of books I gave away for free as advertising. If even 5-10% of these people read the book and like it, then they (probably) will tell their friends. This must be what happened in my case, because I have even cut back on 'self promotion,' yet my sales have increased this month.

    I'm thinking about going off the KDP program, but I've also had a substantial increase in 'borrows', which I (we) get paid for. It is something I have to think about.

    As far as the public just wanting something for nothing, I did have the same sinking feelings as you while I watched the free sales numbers tick up at an alarming rate. But then I thought, isn't that the attraction of the Kindle, and the readers must have seen something in the book that interested them, or else would they have bothered to download? I don't know. The Kindle is the perfect vehicle for voracious readingers, however, and if giving away a few books attracts their attention, then I suppose it's worth it.

    I do understand your feelings on all levels. The entire process has given me a vague unease, yet the availability of this venue has given me a platform to sell and market my book.

  5. Ha...I made up a new word...readingers...LOL! Of course, I meant to type readers.

    1. Thanks Janet. I could have all this entirely wrong. I am more bemused by the whole mechanism rather than anti it outright. I just don't know.

  6. Yes, having similar thoughts. It all seems like a bit of a game, trying to jump above the parapet in order to be seen. I had many times the downloads compared to purchases although only starting out. It may achieve awareness of my existence and the book's existence but genre and having many books you have out seem to be factors in whether a free day contributes to later sales. It all feels a bit dot com bubble to me and I feel uncomfortable with it. Like Anne my own self-promotion and that of others can be wearing. On the other hand the business truth is that I'd like to make a modest success financially, at least recouping my costs! The main thing for me is to write and create something of quality, artistic integrity etc but without the help of the Medicis we might just have to sell our souls to KDP select.

    1. yes Alison, I suspect KDP will form the market entirely in years to come. But it then becomes about units of sales and not content, in which case artistic writers will suffer

  7. I think Alison's "jumping above the parapet" is a good description of what is really going on. Now think about it. Because of the bulk of existing books to be searched/found on Amazon, you want to get yours up far enough on the ladder (parapet) to be seen in some of those keyword searches. KDP free days can do that. Whether the free books are read or not does not matter much in this case. My little ebook on my experience with slow carb fitness got nudged up far enough in just a couple of separate free days that sales rose quite a bit and stayed up after coming off a peak high.

    How well this works varies quite a bit. But if you just set up a schedule and stick with it, offering this and that book for free in rotation, all your work will move up to a greater degree of visibility.

    Some people write for the experience of it. Some of us are writers and have no other living on the horizon. The latter must pay attention to the dynamics of visibility. And even if you don't need the money, most of us do want readers, so it works the same way.

    Creativity does not have to be squelched by marketing. I have a note on my desk "Do not let the marketing kill the writing." That's just a reminder about how much time I spend. The writing has to come first, but the marketing has to come at some point, and regularly.

    Self promotion sucks. I don't know anyone who loves it. It helps me to think about my readers a lot. What are they up to? How can I interact with them? This is a whole other realm of creative writing, and those of us who practice it with an eye toward mastery are going to be the most satisfied with the outcome down the road.

    Promote yourself by being thoroughly entertaining to your readers. You don't have to say how great your book is all the time. Use the Twitter hashtag #novelines, for example. Put lots of fun bits of your stuff out there and make sure your profile link takes people where you want them to go, either to a powerful blog post or straight to your book on Amazon. Make sure people can find you on Twitter via relevant keywords by being brilliant with the composition of your tweets. If you are not linking out on every Twitter post, you can automate some of these so you always have something that can be found in a Twitter search. This one technique sells most of my books. Consistently.

    These things along with KDP and other Amazon author support will get your work seen. Assuming you are actually a very good writer with more than one product on Amazon, over time, you'll build a readership.
    Suzanna Stinnett
    Brainmaker on Twitter

    1. Thanks for commenting Suzanna. I think where a book is very specific theme or subjectm, such as the slow carb fitness one you mention, it is much easier to tag & define & target for visibility than a novel on more broad themes. But I take your points, particularly about doing your free promotion in rotation across all your books - I have 4 so maybe I will consider that. I do most of what you suggest, although maybe not so joined up a way as you. I do novel lines for example, without realising there was a #novelines hashtag.

      Again, just to say that I did the free giveaway not as a targeted marketing thing, but because I was asked to as part of an event, along with others doing similar and lots of associated activity. Everything that happened to my book thereafter was not planned or foreseen by me simply because I wasn't thinking that way. But after it happened, I wanted to analyse what it may mean.

  8. Your blog is interesting and informative too. I have fully read your blog. Thanks for sharing your views.
    Self Book Publishing