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Giving Away Free Books

Discussion in 'Marketing' started by neodoering, Jan 25, 2017.

  1. neodoering

    neodoering Minstrel

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    A few years ago a friend convinced me to give away one of my novels for free on Smashwords. I did, and it has been downloaded nearly 1,000 times since then. Encouraged, I gave away an abridged version of another novel, and a short novel, and a collection of short stories. All these works are fantasies. Together these books have been downloaded nearly 3,000 times.

    I have waited patiently for years for readers of these freebies to look up my name and find my commercial works, and they haven't done it. Sales are flat. Plenty of readers want the freebies, and some have asked me to produce sequels to the freebies I put out there, but they aren't willing to buy.

    Has anyone else tried giving away free novels and short stories? Have you figured out how to get readers to go from freebies to buying your commercial books? What am I doing wrong?

    As far as promotions, I have a FB writer's page, a professional website, and some kind words on some reviewer's sites. And I have the Smashwords freebies, and the professional bio on that site. All this isn't doing it. I'd love to hear your strategies. I mean, hell, entire free novels? How much more do readers expect me to give away?
     
  2. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    I think they'd like your credit cards & SSN ....

    My guess is that the people scouting for free stuff is a different crowd from the people who are willing to pay. Kind of like the difference between people who pick up a free dog from a cardboard box outside of Walmart and people who'll spend thousands on a trained purebred show dog. Both are dog lovers ... but catering to the FREE! crowd doesn't mean you'll necessarily make a profit off of them.

    Out of curiosity, how much are you charging for the (not free) books?

    I don't know how Smashwords compiles data (never used it before), but I think it's also important to note that 3k downloads doesn't necessarily mean 3k reads. Is there a preview option on Smashwords? ...

    You might find this article helpful.
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    You have to do more than just give away books. You need to cultivate a relationship with your readers. There are a ton of advice columns, and whole books, on how to do this. It is not trivial. Free stuff has a role to play, to be sure, but there's more to it.
     
    Thomas Laszlo likes this.
  4. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Before I try to answer this question I hope you don't mind if I ask you too questions.

    1) What are your commercial writings goals? i.e. just a little side money or want to earn a living writing fiction?

    2) Do you mind fairly candid advice?
     
    Thomas Laszlo likes this.
  5. neodoering

    neodoering Minstrel

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    Hi, Russ.
    My goal is to make a living through writing.
    If the candid advice is negative, no thanks. If it's constructive, I'll listen.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2017
    Thomas Laszlo likes this.
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Well I am sure the line between constructive and and negative is in the eye of the beholder, but I will take my chances.

    Allow me to give you my mini-marketing audit (very mini).

    Firstly, let me say that making a living at writing fiction is very, very hard. In many ways harder than it has been in quite a while, at least since the common distribution of the word processor and e-mail submissions. As an indy author it is easy to make a few bucks here and there, but that is a hobby not a living. Traditional publishing is a hard road too.

    I am not going to make any comments about literary or social merit, I am just going to talk about the product you have out there in the context of commercial fiction.

    Giving away books can work, as can sales on books, if done correctly it can enhance the sales of the rest of your list, particularly if you are doing a series of some sort. But the first problem is you need to get people to know you exist and to read your freebees, secondly your freebee has to be so good it has to make people want to pay money for your other works. IF you give a way a whole bunch of free material you are training your readers to expect free material. That is not what you want to achieve. Also as noted above you will attract people looking for freebees, not people willing to plunk down their hard earned cash to buy your book.

    So I looked at your website, read one of your free samples (Alien Treaties Sampler) and looked at your FB author page. I think there are things you need to do better to increase your sales.

    Firstly, while you refer to your website as professional, it doesn't look every appealing or modern to me. I found it hard to navigate, limited in offerings, I found your author bio looked very amateurish, and I was stunned that the covers of your books were not displayed until I had to click through a link. I also didn't see your positive comments from reviewers anywhere on your site. Small boxes on a page surrounded by white space don't say "professional to me."

    You also make some comments that don't enhance your credibility. For instance when I read:

    "Here, then, is a list of my industry publications, since industry people don't respect self-published works"

    I don't think, "hey this guy is a fascinating writer", I think "this guy has a chip on his shoulder". That is not a positive.

    So, I think your page needs a tune up. I would at least look at something like authorbytes before you redo it. Even if you don't choose to work with them you can see what commercially successful authors are doing with their webpages. Also there is no place to sign up for your newsletter. Building a list has huge value.

    After reading the sampler I would respectfully suggest that you could use a good developmental editor. I know that might result in a $350 a page critique, but there are reasons your work is not selling.

    On your FB author page you could do a better as well. I must say though I really like the photo on the page. It is the content that troubles me from a commercial perspective.

    First thing I would say is that your FB page doesn't offer any value to the visitor, and I don't necc mean monetary value, I mean value of any sort. As far as I could see it was basically you talking about what you might be writing right now etc. Now if I am a devoted King fan, going to a page about what he is writing has value to me. If I am trying to discover you as a new author your comments about what you are writing right now has no value for me.

    Now it is easy for you to offer value on the FB page. For instance, you have travelled some really cool places, you could publish some tips about how to travel to some of those destinations and see and experience things there. That might have value to me.

    Your author page does not seem to have a theme or a brand. After I visit it I am not sure if you are the guy who is writing the book about his journey with a pe diagnosis or the guy writing fantasy fiction of lost cultures. You can't be all things to all people under one name. IF you want to make a living selling fiction you might want to just focus on that in your materials. If you want to be the guy telling the story of his own journey do that. The audience for each of those kind of books is quite different and you need to market to each of them. You need to decide on, and thus focus on and enhance your author brand.

    Also when you think about making a living you have to think about how your audience is and how big your market is. The market for indy published books about your personal journey with a diagnosis is quite small. The market for fantasy books about non-european cultures is larger but still not huge. You will have to set your expectations accordingly.

    You also need to treat yourself and your work fairly seriously and be careful what you say. Some people might be turned off by odd or out there comments. You only get once chance to make a first impression. You need to ask yourself if a person who doesn't know you will be more or less likely to buy your books when you write:

    I
    You might want to consider, at some point, hiring a marketing person and/or publicist. Those skills don't grow on trees and working with the right people can pay off. It is the rare indy author who has all the skills needed to self-publish successfully. You need to consider scale. Dropping $20 on FB ads is not going to make a real wave. Most industry marketing people today are recommending spending $1500-$3000 on FB ads to create a noticeable buzz or uptick in sales for a new novel. Lots of people recommend spending $20-$75 a day in FB ads just to maintain presence or build your list.

    I would also recommend you get out and meet people in your writing community in person. Build relationships and networks. You should also do the same thing online, but in person is still important.

    Those are my thoughts on your current sales concerns. Now to make a quick comment on your question about contests and then get some work done.
     
  7. TheCatholicCrow

    TheCatholicCrow Inkling

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    If you'd like to opt for something WAY cheaper (but don't mind putting in the time) you could use a critique site like Scribophile or Critique Circle .... or line up a list of trusted Beta readers.

    You can post chapters here but it's much more difficult and won't necessarily get you the same level of feedback because, while it's a great option, its not the focus of this site.

    love and adore this community, but Scribophile is where I post my Non-fantasy stuff (or anything not written for a client) ... I recommend it to anyone looking to ditch the cost of developmental editing. There's also a group on there that's dedicated building your author brand, another for bloggers, and basically anything you can think of that might benefit Indies.
     
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I agree with CC. I have a membership with Scribophile and quite like how it works and you can get some good feedback and guidance.

    However, I have seen the work done by a proper professional editor, or a marketing rep or a publicist, and their work is a cut above. IF you can't afford it, you can't afford it, but it is a far better service with the right editor.

    A good developmental editor will also direct you on submissions, and give you excellent insight into markets.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017
    TheCatholicCrow likes this.
  9. neodoering

    neodoering Minstrel

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    Thanks for the feedback

    Thanks for the feedback, I'll see if I can make use of it.
     
  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The right editor is key. You can waste a lot of money, and even more time, on wrong editors before ever finding a right one. Yes, editors often give away a few pages, but that's not enough to know how they will handle a full novel. The only way to know is to put your money on the table, and invest the time. This can happen even in traditional publishing.

    There's not a fix for this, for all the research one might do. You just have to be aware of it. A further tragedy is finding the right one only to lose them for one reason or another. Just for perspective: good editors are rarer than good books.
     
    Demesnedenoir and Russ like this.
  11. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    The right editor... yeah that sounds like a trial and error thing, and I'm hoping I got lucky. I stumbled on a lady who used to have a small publishing business, and working with her has been a hoot. She's no nonsense. I had three editors do preview edits, and I left the sample chapter a little rougher than it actually was just to see who called BS, so to speak. The editor I chose was the most expensive, and the one who called BS, and the one who listed a pet peeve in her bio that I knew I did a few times, and I figured if she didn't call me on that in my sample, she was an ass kisser, LOL. Nope, she nailed me on it, hard, and jacked the price of submitting to her because of it... but she also lowered her price if I went through the ms and corrected it, which I did, being the frugal sort, heh heh.

    The editor's job is a fine balance, you want someone who respects your voice and story, but at the same time is willing to hit you over the head when you need it. An interesting thing with this editor was early on, during first pass through the ms, she noted that she would often "rewrite" sentences and paragraphs for writers, but that she didn't feel comfortable doing that with mine, she didn't think she could mimic the voice. So, she certainly respects the voice. The greater question is whether my voice is different/good or different/bad, LOL. I'm not sure if I should flattered or horrified, but opted for flattered.

    I've no idea if she'll be to direct me on submissions, or give me direct market insight. What sort of advice in these directions have you seen and heard of from editors?
     
  12. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    We got a lot of help in that area from my wife's editor even though she already had an agent.

    I think it is determined by how long she has been out of the publishing industry and how close she remains to people in the business socially etc. She should be able to give you some guidance in that regard though.
     
  13. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Hi, neodoering. I hope it's okay for me to jump in here. Hopefully something said here will help, or maybe it won't, but I took heart in your frustrations. Listen, I'm not sure what your intentions for writing and publishing are. But if you're desiring others to buy your work, then I'm going to suggest that is where you put your focus. On selling.

    I took a look at your work (the free novel you posted). Your work is beautiful. No joke. I've never seen anything like it. History buffs? Look no further! But—you aren't providing value to that work! I'm going to make some suggestions feel free to discard:

    1. If you don't believe in the ebook, then you're not going to sell as an Indie. And Indie is basically the only shot you might have at sharing your work with readers. Both of us know that the trade publishing industry runs on money, and projects like yours are risky to bring on. Why? It's not mainstream and this could take years upon years of rejection when well, you could just continue publishing yourself. *shrug*

    Therefore, this brings us to the ebook vs print. Your work is meant to be viewed on paper. <-- is this a thought you have? Because it's shooting you in the foot. Artwork like yours...you can charge for it!! SO ebook, please consider formatting to ebook. If you need resources to help you with this one I'll gladly put together a list for you. It's inexpensive and very easy to do. I just started formatting my ebooks and while they're lacking flare, I'm progressing towards that point because it's that easy.

    *Ebook form is what will allow you to have more versatility in your publishing business (because that's what this is, sorry). Please, please, if there's anything you change your mind on let it be this. For the love of every ebook ever written.

    2. How much work do you actually have that you can sell? How many short stories and novels are we talking about here? Are they all in the same world? When you say that you've gotten thousands of downloads, it's encouraging. The only problem is that you need some of those freebies to be turning profit for you, and the only way to achieve this is by having a back list. Sounds like you've got one. So, take perhaps the highest downloaded book and keep it as your permafree. Put the rest of the books on paid. How much should you price? For artwork like yours, I'd price high. Take a look at work similar to yours and gauge it that way.

    One book free, rest paid. If you get them converted to ebook form, you can price a little lower but for shorts I'd go $3.99 because of the art. If you went Kindle Unlimited, then you could do countdown deals on the rotating books to start with as exposure.


    3. Genre. I'd say historical fantasy but your work doesn't match anything in the mainstream category. Does it have magic and adventure? I'd search under historical fantasy and similar keywords on Amazon to gauge where the book should be shelved. Look at the customer also boughts for books that resemble yours.

    4. Promotion. Without it my friend, it's hard to get seen. Not knowing how many books you have kind of limits me on what to say here, but paid promotion will be your friend. The thing is, your books have to be making profit, so following #1 is the only way to do this. You promote the permafree with the hopes of your backlist piggybacking off the promotion. Do this over and over again, PRODUCE NEW WORK, and keep doing this.

    5. Patience. This shit takes forever. Long haul. Your work is out of the ordinary but be encouraged that people are asking for sequels! That's awesome. Make it work for you by engaging with your audience and starting a mailing list.

    This is good for now. The thing is, free works really well when you have other books for those readers to continue on to, which you have. So, one free, rest paid. Don't give anymore books away unless it's a new in series or you'd like to gift newsletter subscribers. Free is a business decision that should lead to $$. So not all of your stuff can be free. I hope this helps!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 19, 2017
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