Is there still a point to use free books?

In Self-publishing Unboxed, I mentioned that I don’t use permanently free books any more.

People have asked me when I would recommend using free books, and when not to use them.

Free books are excellent for giving away samples of your writing. People will download the free book and then will read the other books if they liked it.

But if you have a permanently for a book on Amazon or any of the other retailers, you will find that after initial burst of downloads, the number of people downloading your book reduces quite a lot.

When that happens, you will have to advertise.

And with advertising comes a cost. Also, there are only so many venues where you can effectively advertise your free book, like ENT, Freebooksy and, if you can get it, Bookbub. Eventually you’re going to run out of places to advertise, and it will be harder to get free downloads. You can ask fellow writers in similar genres to post about your free book to their mailing list, but you have to work harder and harder to give your free books away. There are people doing this very successfully by the way. But don’t expect the fact that you have a free book to just lead to higher sales by its self.

On Amazon, I tend to only get free downloads if I have advertising going, on Kobo, the free books are right at the bottom of the rankings, so people will only find them when you point them to the free book, and this is the same at Google play. Apple is the only retailer that still shows free books to readers in a place where they can actually find them, but unfortunately, a soon as you make your book free on Apple, Amazon will make it free, too.

When I say that I no longer use free as a tool, that is not entirely true. I definitely use free, but I give away free books in exchange for people’s email address so that they can be on my mailing list.

This is a huge advantage, because now you know who your readers are.

I started doing this when I noticed that all the downloads on the retailer sites were through activities of mine. If you’re going to have to pay to get people to download your free book, you might as well pay for a place where they need to leave your email address to get the free book.
I uploaded my free books on Instafreebie and Bookfunnel and required mandatory email signups for people to download their copy.

I will occasionally make a book free for month or so, but I won’t leave it like that, because the downloads diminish when your ad campaigns have finished, and there is no point leaving the book free if you are driving all the downloads.

In short, free is useful when there are external mechanisms that will direct new readers to your books. If you are the only one directing the readers, you should dictate where people download it. It might as well be in a place where you can get their data.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find out about the Three Year Plan self-publishing books here.

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The astonishing success of the SF/F promotion

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Remember I posted this a few days ago? Well, the promotion is now live and we’ve had over 62,000 clicks to book links so far, with almost a day still to go. I’m flabbergasted, and very pleased and astonished.

Why is this model so successful?

Cross-promotions are nothing new, but ironically, I think I stumbled on a fluke by being too lazy to bother with adding a competition with a rafflecopter thingie to it. I mean– the promotion is simple: get books for free or 99c (this alternates each month). It’s a promotion about READERS, not about people who want to win competitions, or who want to win some device.

The premise is crystal clear: get cheap or free books. It’s not about leaving email addresses for authors to use, or about other author-driven goals. It’s about people getting a selection of a lot of books.

It’s also not about everyone doing the same thing. The authors pay nothing, except I ask them to post about the promo in a place where they normally hang out, whether that be Facebook, Twitter, their blog, Google+ or Instagram or wherever. I am normally on Twitter and a little bit on Facebook. I have a Google+ account but never use it. I *think* I have a Reddit account, but I have no idea what the password is. So for me to start posting on Google+ or Reddit would be spammy. It’s not spammy for someone who frequents the place and has friends there.

That is why it works.

There will be some changes coming. Every month, we add a couple of hundred email addresses to the list of people who get the promo mailed to them. We’re about to smash Mailchimp’s free limit of 2000 addresses, and I’m going to have to pony up for the list. I have some ideas for further cross-promo projects that will be cool for readers, help promo authors and help me fund the site.

I’m getting a lot from this, but bucketloads of money is not one of those things 😛

Why I’m giving away free books

If you go to my Amazon page, Kobo page or GooglePlay page (or others), you will see that a number of my books are free. What you’ll see there will depend a bit on your geographical region, with Kobo the most reliable in whether or not a book is actually free when I want it to be.

People (especially traditionally-published authors) have other expressed dismay about this. BUT! They will say, Aren’t you devaluing your work by giving it away? You worked hard for these books. You should get paid for them. But you see, I am being paid for them, because giving away books means that I’ll sell more books. Usually, the free books are first in series or short works related to series. Think of the free book as sample. To appreciate the full work, you’ll need to buy the rest of the series. This works magic.

I’ll illustrate this with my tale of 3D software. There is a software package called 3DMax, that’s hideously expensive. It’s pro-level software and I would never buy it without being thoroughly familiar with what it does. There are also a couple of cheaper options that do a really decent job on a basic level. One of these is DAZ Studio. This software used to cost about $400, and I would also have to think hard about if I wanted to buy it. I would definitely not buy it on a whim or just to see if I liked it.

About two years ago, the makers of the software decided to give it away for nothing. Go have a look. It’s still free. It’s awesome.

With the package, you get some models, but not many. You have to purchase them, but now you’re familiar with the software and you can see why. I have since purchased a lot of 3D models. Not only that, but I’ve also purchased Terragen, another 3D modelling program that has a trial free option. I’ve purchased Photoshop and I’ve purchased a drawing tablet. All because the DAZ software is free.

This is how free books work. They draw you in,and if you like it, there is more. By that time you won’t mind paying for it. Currently, these books of mine are free in all or some places (hover to see where it’s free, click to go to the book’s page). They’re free for longer periods. At some point, they’ll probably go back to paid.

Watcher’s Web: This is one of my oldest books, and the one on which I’ve spent the most money, but now that the series is completed, making the first book free is paying off big time.

Fire & Ice: This has been free for a while and will probably get another boost when I start on the second trilogy.

Innocence Lost: I’ll be completing book 3 later this month, so making this free draws more readers into the series that’s still growing.

Shattered World Within: You can read this for free on the Giganotosaurus site, so why not make it free elsewhere?

Why different prices for different titles? Because it’s not easy to make your book free everywhere. Also, different things work on different platforms, and I try to work out what works best for each platform. Some platforms, like Kobo, don’t work at all for cheap books and I’m not sold on the free thing there either. Some platforms will also discount of their own accord, so it’s virtually impossible to have the same price on all platforms.

Why I’m giving away free books was originally published on Must Use Bigger Elephants