FREE FALLING

Tuesday’s Child, PJ Sharon, coming to you from the lovely Hills of Western MA. I trust you all had a memorable and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to everyone who helped me spread the word about my Heaven Is for Heroes FREE book offering over the weekend. I was able to gift dozens of e-books to military families and meet some new readers. I LOVE giving books away! But I’m a little concerned about the consequences of all this giving away of free books. How much is too much?

Ooops! Never too much! Ya’ll awake now?

Sigh…you can never get too much of my beau Alex, here…when digression is a good thing. Back to business. As I was saying…

When I published my first book last September, I was rightfully focused on recouping my investment, managing a budget, and making enough money to produce the next book three months later. By being diligent (that included making my family and friends buy my book) I was able to break even by January and start loosening the reins on my militent book selling. Fortunately, the third book, which came out in March, cost me much less to produce, allowing me to break even on my investment within the first month of it’s release.

It wasn’t until I entered Savage Cinderella into the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program that I saw the opportunity to make my book available for FREE. With KDP Select, a ninety day agreement to offer the book only through Amazon, I could put the book up for free for up to five days within that three months. I had been watching my Indie Romance Ink pals do very well with their free promotions. (I have to say here, I feel incredibly fortunate to belong to such supportive writing loops. I would not be able to do any of this without them. I’ve learned so much about the inner workings of publishing, marketing and promoting that would have taken years  to learn on my own.)

Several YA and Children’s authors in the group organized an event in April that ran for three days (see my experiment here). During those three days I had 28,000 downloads of SC in five countries. I was blown away by these results and noticed a consistent boost in sales of all three books for about the next three weeks.

Just when the numbers started to decline, I was approached to join another group of authors. This time with the WG2E (Writers Guide To E-publishing) in another give away. I still had two more FREE days to use up, so I jumped on board with the WG2E Street Team.  Sixteen authors worked together to promote an amazing Beach Book Blast event. There was a Twitter party, crazy cross-promotion through FB, a deluge of tweeting and retweeting, a Kindle Fire giveaway, and a constant sense that everyone was working in sync to move mountains.

 It was an awesome experience. During my two FREE days with the BBB promo, I had over 11,000 downloads and have sold 120 books in the past four days. I also reached the Amazon Top 100 Kindle Free book list, gaining the exposure that every author hopes for. My best ranking during that time was #30 in the Kindle Free Store, #3 in Love and Romance category, and #4 in Children’s e-books. Woohoo! I was thrilled, and I’m only sharing so you’ll know what’s possible.

 I love that I am reaching so many new readers who might potentially want to read other books I write. Every writer writes, if only in part, for the joy of stirring an emotional response from an audience. It’s an amazing feeling when someone tells you that they loved your story or that you touched their heart in some way. But there are also those who think your book is “unbelievable and stupid.”  I appease my bruised ego by counting my sales and waiting for those royalty checksJ A few negative reviews are well worth the pain for those short bursts of increased sales after a FREE promotion, and the momentum that gets generated in sales of your other books. If timed right, it can give you a pretty good payout over a few months.

On the downside—and yes, there is always a downside—for all of those downloads, a certain percentage of readers will never read the book because they have downloaded more FREE books than they will ever have time to read in this lifetime. It’s also a heck of a lot of work being a part of or running one of these promotional events and you are super lucky if you can hook up with some indiustrious people willing to collaborate. Otherwise, it’s tough to get these kind of results all on your own. 

Another possible side benefit of doing a FREE promo is that you can pretty much plan on getting a bunch of reviews, something that is generally a challenge for new authors. Great! Right? Um, no…Quantity seems to win over quality in this respect. I had 10 new reviews, some of which were very nice, others, not so much. With 25 reviews, SC has an average rating of four stars, for which I am very grateful, but there are some unhappy readers out there and that is always hard to take.

 I think many of the negative reviews come out of the fact that a cross section of people who download anything that is FREE may not be your target audience and may not be a fan of your genre. Don’t be surprised to see some returns. That’s right, for every ten books I sell or give away, there are at least one or two returns. That means that for every fifty books I sell, five to ten are returned. No idea why, but I hear other indie-authors say the same thing so I don’t worry about it. I don’t worry about negative reviews either. The majority of comments are wonderful, and I’m pretty comfy here in my thick skin.

But the biggest downside of going FREE is that the glut of free books on the e-book market are making things very tough for authors who need to charge $7, $8, or even $9 for their books to ensure that publishers, agents, and distributors get their cut. Being an indie, I can set my price, and most indie authors are fine with selling a 75,000 word novel for under $3.99. Why would anyone want to pay for books if they can get so many inexpensive or FREE books? Is it devaluing the work of authors? Will readers come to expect books to be free? Will people with e-readers fill them up with so many free books that they will just stop buying them? I’m sad to say I have more books on my Kindle than I will ever have time to read. This is a definite deterrent for me buying anything new or even downloading more free books.

 Don’t get me wrong. I’m very pleased and satisfied with my results, and I don’t think that people will ever stop buying books, I’m just pondering the future and wondering what’s next?

So how do you feel about FREE books? For, against, or neutral, and why?

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46 thoughts on “FREE FALLING”

  1. I have actually bought a whole series of books I based off the first one being free. If the writing is good I’m in. But I have also downloaded free books that were crap and made me wish I got my free time back. I like free books as a reader. As a writer I’m wondering why anyone would shell out 8 bucks for a book when they could get one for free. But I still buy books from my favorite authors because I want to support them.

  2. That’s what authors who have more than one book in their backlist are hoping for, Jamie. I’ve definitely noticed an increase in sales for my other two books since running the free promotions for SC. Series books do even better.

    I too, still buy books from authors I love and want to support, but I have to say, it stings a little when I have to shell out ten bucks for an e-book when I know what the cost of production really is.

  3. I’ve thought about the FREE ebooks a lot. I think it’s a good idea for promo or as the first in a series for an author. However, the glut of freebies may indeed devalue authors’ work. I have talked to a few non-writers who don’t seem to understand the blood, sweat, and tears that go into writing a book because they can read a bunch of stuff for free. I think your approach of promos, PJ, makes a lot of sense, though. I admit to downloading a free book now and then — but I am particular about what I get so that I either know the author or appreciate the genre. Thanks for sharing your results!

    1. You’re welcome, Julie. Big publishers have always known the benefits of giving books away for free. Authors have run contests and giveaways, you can’t go to a writers conference without coming out with a bag full of free books, and this past year in the self-publishing industry, authors have seen the mega benefits of these free promotions. Of course Amazon is thrilled because it is driving Kindle sales through the roof. Readers win, authors win, and everyone seems pretty happy. It will be interesting to see how it plays out in the long run, though. In the self-correcting world of commerce, the pendulum usually swings back the other way. Hopefully the backlash won’t be too bad:-)

  4. Thanks for this post, PJ! You’re right on. With good reviews come the bad. And it’s nice to think that readers who truly enjoyed your book will purchase others. I know I have! Happy writing!

  5. Paula,
    Thanks for sharing your results about your book giveaway. It’s so interesting to learn about the ins and outs of indie publishing and as always, I’m blown away by all your hard work.
    Congrats on the sales and all your good reviews!

    1. Thanks, Linda. The best part for me is knowing that my books have found a home with over 40,000 readers. As a new author, I am feeling really blessed by that.

  6. It’s so interesting to hear about your journey, PJ, and thanks for being so honest about the results, even when they’re not always 100% positive. I have yet to download a free book, to be honest. The books I buy are by authors I know who’ll deliver (you included). As for your concern that free or inexpensive books are hurting the sales of those of us whose books sell at full price…I haven’t seen that yet. My sales are great, including e-books. I’m not sure the indie book revolution has done anything to hurt the traditionally published author. To me, it’s all good, because authors have so many ways to get their books out there, and readers have more choices than ever on how and whom to read.

    1. Thanks for chiming in, Kristan. I was hoping to get your take on this. I’m glad you aren’t being effected by the influx of freebies. I wonder if less well-known authors are finding the same thing, though, or if book sales are declining at all. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for articles with recent sales statistics.

      I, too, don’t mind spending money on books by authors who I know consistently deliver great stories. I just finished Jessica Andersen’s latest Nightkeepers novel and am just about to start on Somebody to Love!

      I also love the option of trying out new authors for free or reduced prices. Then if I get a stinker once in a while, I don’t feel so bad. If I get a book for free or have only paid a buck for it, and it doesn’t grab me in the first chapter or two, I move on to something else, an option I wouldn’t have considered before. As a reader, I have found a whole new world of indie authors who are amazing writers. Definitely a win, win.

      1. Most of the indie authors I read are from word-of-mouth recommendations. Same is true with traditional authors. That’s how my own career began, too. I bet that’s still the most powerful tool of all, not to take away from the free book offers and the exposure they give you.

  7. Thanks PJ for sharing this. I’ve just entered the indie-publishing world and am soaking up every experience I can read about. I agree with your opinion on the massive downloads of free books which may never get read, and confess to having some on my own Kindle. But “exposure” is good and running your sale definitely gave you that. You write great stories, and your fans will follow you, while your critics will move on to someone else. I hear there are those who do nothing but post bad reviews just to pull rankings down. I didn’t opt for KDP Select this first time out, but am watching those of you who are taking advantage of the promo op and may choose to use it next go round. Thanks again!

    1. Glad it was helpful, Joelene. And welcome to the indie-publishing world! I have kept my first two books out of KDP. Mostly because I want readers with any type of e-reading device to be able to get my books. I haven’t sold much through BN or Smashwords, but i question the wisdom of putting all my eggs in one basket or giving Amazon total control over my product sales. But I couldn’t deny the results i was seeing with other authors using the Select program and wanted to see how it would go with the third book.

      KDP has made it a very attractive way to go. I like the ease of doing the promotions. You just go into your books page and click on “manage promotions,” and you can set up the days you want the book to go free. KDP keeps track of everything and all you have to do is promote the heck out of it, which requires some planning ahead if you want your book listed on sites like Pixel of Ink or E-reader News Today. They usually require a few weeks prior notice.

      The other benefit of the KDP Select program is being part of the Lending Library. I forgot to mention this in my post, but I’ve had over 100 borrows this month, which translates into about $200 added to my royalties. It’s another way to reward readers and authors who are loyal to Amazon. Say what you will about the big dog, but they know how to keep people coming back.

  8. You’ve cleared up the mystery of why I get a few returns sometimes. Thank you for helping your fellow authors understand how to promote more effectively!

    ~Nancy Jill Thames
    “Queen of Afternoon Tea”

    1. You’re welcome, Nancy. Returns are just the cost of doing business. I try to ignore those numbers and just focus on the “net’ sales. Some folks say that you can expect 1% returns, but it has been my experience, and I’ve seen it with many other indie-authors, that about 10% is fairly normal, especially during and after a FREE promotion. It probably doesn’t help that Amazon actually promotes their “Easy return” policy, a fact that has many indies sending courteous notes to the powers that be in hopes of changing that policy. It doesn’t seem right that they would allow returns of FREE anything or that they allow returns a week later. it costs Amazon nothing, but costs the author revenue. We’ll see how they respond.

      1. I’m one of those authors who recently sent a note to Amazon, requesting to know the difference between ebooks which have a 7 day return policy (I could read several books in 7 days if I really wanted to, and return them all w/o even explaining why!), and apps/music/videos which have a strict non-returnable policy. I’m very curious as to their answer–if I get one.

      2. rumor on some of the loops/boards is that the readers are reading the books and then returning them. I have to say I would have never thought of that!

  9. Thanks for posting this Paula! It’s always interesting and informative to read about your journey to self-publishing. (I’m still secretly — or not so secretly– hoping that someday you’ll put out a book series like Jennifer Fusco’s Market Or Die, about your experiences.) I wish you all the luck in the world! :D — Jamie

    1. Thanks, Jamie. I would love to write that book. I’ve got several non-fiction projects I’d like to pursue…if I only had the time…sigh…how many hours are in a day? Let me know when it goes up to 32.

  10. Hi PJ, thanks for sharing your experience with us. I didn’t realize you could return a “free” book though Amazon (and why would you). It’s also good to hear that the free promo giveaways are not hurting your or the traditional author’s sales. I like the idea of the give away, the chance to maybe check out a new author or even a new genre through them, but since I don’t have a Kindle or a Nook and have no immediate plans to buy one, I read them through the Kindle app on my computer. Unlike others, I don’t have a ton of downloaded books, because reading on the computer feels like work. I’m also very selective, as my free time is very limited. Even when I go to conferences, I don’t take home every free book they offer. And, I have to admit, I will still pick up a new author/genre/series faster by a word of mouth recommendation than I would through a Amazon/B&N promo. My favorite way to find new favorites is still browsing the aisles of a bookstore, picking up that book and reading the first few pages.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Gail. I’m with you and Kristan on the word of mouth method of choosing books. I also can’t resist browsing in a B&N. It’s like my favorite thing to do on a rainy day. I just hope all this crazy e-book frenzy doesn’t cause places like B&N to go the way of the dinosaur. That would be a sad day, indeed.

  11. As always, I am grateful for your sharing. Being that I am published through a small press, I don’t have an option for free days, but also being that I am not published through one of the big 6 publishers, I don’t have their exposure either, so I feel like I am stuck in limbo. I have to find other ways to reach readers, and I’m not really sure what that looks like yet. Still working on it. :)

    1. We’ve talked a little about this before, Katy. With only one book available, new authors are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to promoting. Yes, you want to find a readership, and yest you need to do some amount of promo, but the biggest thing you can do to help sales is write the next book and get it out there.

      As you are working to build your platform through FB, Twitter, Pinterest, or any of the social media sites, you are creating a reason for people to like and listen to what you have to say. That’s why branding is so important. Creating a recognizable and familiar image of who you are and what you write about is key to gaining a following. But first, they need to find you, so make yourself and your message visible to your target audience wherever and whenever you can, a little at a time.Once those people buy and love your book, they will want more and they will want to tell all their friends about you and your fabulous work. You want to have that “more” ready for them:-)

  12. Congrats on the awesome rankings, PJ! I appreciate all you share regarding your journey. I too have more free books downloaded than I’ll ever read. However, I have found authors that I adore because I downloaded one of theirs free, bought the rest, and am eagerly waiting more. I still buy books from authors I like and want to support. So hopefully others will as well. When, like you said, the pendulum swings the other way and free stops working so well for authors, less will be free and I think/hope people will still buy books. Even when you pay for a book, it’s still some of the least expensive entertainment you can buy per hour. Plus, I just love reading! :=)

    1. Good points, Rhonda. You aren’t alone, apparently. There are a lot of voracious readers out there who are having a field day with free books and are ecstatic about finding great new authors to follow. i’m one of them. Can’t wait to read yours when it comes out!

  13. Yep, my To Be Read list on my Nook and Kindle PC app is LOOOONNNNGGGG, consisting of both paid and free books. I get to them as I can, otherwise I have to be writing my next book (or procrastinating by posting comments on blogs! LOL).

    Savage Cinderella is one of those books and I’m looking forward to it.

    Thanks for sharing your info!

    1. Great having you, Stacey. I totally hear you on the procrastination front. I am appalled at how little writing I’m getting done while doing all this other writerly stuff! Thanks for reaching out to Amazon to call them out on their policies. You are a brave lady! I hope you enjoy the book.

  14. First off, thank you PJ for the lovely Alex O eye candy! And congratulations on your success. I’ve read a lot of posts from other authors about Amazon’s changes to their alogorithms and how they will adversely affect free books (meaning they won’t be weighted as full sales or possibly not counted at all). Any thoughts on that?

    And as to the freebies, I’m really very cautious about what I download now. I don’t want a lot of stuff clogging up my Nook and Kindle so if something intrigues me, I check out a sample first (and this is true whether it’s free or 7.99). I’m purposely keeping my reading list light, because like you, I’m not writing nearly enough. And it’s driving me nuts. I’ll be sharing my slacker ways on my blog on Friday.

    1. Hi Casey. Glad to share my sweetie, Alex O. with you. I was in need of some inspiration and he is my go-to hottie for putting a smile on my face:-) As for slacking…should we have a slacker party? I’m thinking a margarita night is completely called for under the circumstances.

      I haven’t heard the scoop yet on Amazon algorithm changes. They seem to change them as frequently as a toddler’s diaper. It’s tough to keep up:-) So I can’t really comment on what’s likely to happen to freebies in the future. Your guess is as good as mine.

      As with everything in the publishing industry, Amazon is constantly shifting and trying to keep up with or create trends that benefit them and keep them in the leadership position with their competitors. I give them a lot of credit for trying to be author friendly as well as reader friendly while they make their billions.

      I’m sure when they make changes, it will be for good reason. That pendulum may need a little help swinging back the other way and so far, Amazon has been doing a smash up job of anticipating where the market is going. It doesn’t make sense for Amazon to work against authors since we are providing them with their product. That would be a foolish business decision on their part. I feel lucky to have gotten into indie-publishing when I did. I think it’s going to become much harder to jump into the fray and find success as time goes on and competition continues to grow.

  15. I’m finding this indie journey of yours fascinating, PJ! And I have to tell you, when I saw Savage Cinderella at #30 overall and #3 and #4 in a couple of categories, I got so excited I just had to go post it on the Scribes FB page :) Thanks so much for blazing the trail for us, and for being so honest about what’s working and what isn’t, and for sharing your real numbers. It’s both inspiring and sobering.

  16. You’re welcome, Suze. Just paying it forward. I would not have come this far without the help and generosity of other indie authors who have provided all the tools I needed. One of the best surprises of this journey has been meeting and collaborating with amazing people who are willing to work hard and lend a hand.

  17. Thanks for all the details on your publishing journey to date, PJ. Congrats on your success. I like the opportunity to “try” an author with a free book download. If I like it, I happily pay up to $8 for their future work.

    Keep with it! :)

    1. Thanks, Jolyse. Maybe I’m just cheap these days (don’t tell anyone!) but I have to really LOVE an author to download an e-book for $8. Which is really the point, I guess. People have gotten spoiled by those cheap e-reads and have to be highly motivated to dish out the “big bucks” for a digital book.

  18. Paula, the responses to your post are amazing. Good for you stirring up the write pot. I never get a free book that I do not plan on reading. I did not know you could return “free books.” Like any kind of books, some of them I enjoy if I get past the first few pages. Those that I will not read, I will return. I especially appreciate those free classics that are critical to my writing process. Thanks Paula, for a great post.

    1. Hi, Gail. Thanks for popping in. Amazon’s return policy is pretty liberal. Why anyone would bother returning something that was free is beyond me, though I do know that it is easy to hit that “click to buy” button without meaning to. I’m sure that happens a lot.

      I have the entire works of Jane Austen on my Kindle which I think I paid .99 cents for last year. I will treasure those books and return to them often. The price doesn’t lessen the value of the book since books are precious to me, but I’m very glad that I had easy access to those classics or I might not have purchased them on my own. So much to read, so little time.

  19. Paula, you have such wisdom. Thanks. Yes, those classics are to be cherished. I am having difficulty getting through “To Kill a Mockingbird.” But for the life of me, I cannot figure why? Any ideas?

  20. As for the Free thing: I am quickly learning that all Free books are not created equal. I download many free books only to find they are unreadable for one reason or another.

    The most common things I see are meandering plots and events that just don’t make sense. Also, I see a good deal of poor editing. By that, I don’t mean spelling or grammar errors. I mean point-of-view lapses, bad dialogue, and loose storytelling.

    Here’s an example: I recently downloaded a free horror book where the protagonist was a recent divorcee. He goes on and on about how sad he is that his marriage ended. Out of the blue, he calls his ex-wife a whore. He then recounts the day his wife announced she wanted a divorce and announces that he accidentally killed both his wife and mother in law. A few paragraphs later, he talks about his ex-wife as though she’s alive. Anyway, I quit reading because I was confused.

    So, my point here is that I think readers will eventually realize that they get what they pay for. The people who expect all books to be free will become more willing to pay for quality books. The people who want free books no matter what will either resort to piracy or continue downloading whatever is free–which I suspect will lessen in quality as time passes.

    Here’s the other thing I’ll say before I end this over-long reply. I’ve had several indie authors tell me that free days result in negative reviews. I do agree with you that some of those negative reviews come from people outside your target audience. I also think that some people just enjoy giving negative reviews.

    I’m glad to hear things are progressing well for you. Keep up the good work!

    1. Great insights, Catie. it’s true there is a lot of junk out there and it is often put up for free so it goes back to choosing wisely or take your chances. And I agree, some people just like writing snarky reviews.

  21. PJ: fabulous post…I’ll be sharing it with my writers loop! Some members are going (have gone) the KDP Select route, while others are just beginning the indie path or considering it. Banding together and sharing information with each other is powerful. Thank YOU for letting us all peek inside your world. Very helpful info!

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