For those of you who are new around here, let me catch you up. I’ve been writing novels for about three years. My first one was an erotic romance called Entropy, which has done pretty well for a first novel from an indie author who refuses to spend more on marketing than he makes on his writing. (I’ve sold about 400 copies of that one across all channels.) I followed that up with a sequel, Duality, and then finished out the trilogy with Gravity. The sales of the latter two books were not as robust, being sequels. It didn’t occur to me (particularly against the drumbeat of bloggers saying “You have to write a series!”), but sequels limit your audience to people who read the previous book. So while my sell-through rate (40%) is well above average, sequels are never going to be able to match the sales of the first book.
Having learned that lesson, my next novel was a genre-change. I wrote a standalone women’s fiction novel Apotheosis. It’s not erotic (in fact, there is no sex at all), and it sort of mashes up “Women’s Fiction” and “Hero’s Journey” plot lines to make something that should have a pretty broad appeal. That’s just been out a couple months and it is off to a decent start, selling about 50 copies so far across all channels. The reviews are outstanding. I’m having a heck of a time figuring out how to promote it, though. Twitter Ads, which have worked really well for me in the past, aren’t working at all for the new novel. Getting cheap clicks is working (particularly in the UK), but once they get to the page, they aren’t converting to readers at nearly the rate I saw with Entropy. No clue why.
So while I let that new book simmer, hoping it finds an audience on its own, I’ve temporarily turned my attention back to my original series. One thing I’ve never done is make a novel free. I have a couple short stories that I turned into e-books and made free, and although I’ve never spent a dime promoting them, they’ve managed to find about 1,800 readers on their own, just sitting there being free. The free shorts also include the first chapter of Entropy, as a teaser. As far as I can tell, that’s never led to any sales. But each short only took me a day or two to write, edit, and publish, so I don’t feel bad about not making anything back on them.
Despite that evidence that free is not a good strategy, along with my argument that authors should never pay people to read their books, I’m going to go ahead and do a free promo of Entropy. And I’m going to do it right. The book is in KDP Select (Amazon exclusive), so I can easily make it free for five days. And I’ve secured paid spots on a bunch of newsletters to promote the free day:
- Book Sends: $180
- Free Booksy: $100
- Excite Spice: $40
- Fussy Librarian: $30
- eBook Betty: $25
- Book Soda: $20
- Book Raid: $20
- Read Freely: $8
Yes, that is an eye-popping $423 I’m going to spend to promote a free book. I can guarantee I won’t get a direct return on my investment, since it’s free. There’s no royalties when it’s free. So without an ROI, why do it? Curiosity, mostly.
The conventional wisdom of doing a free promo is that you get The Big Bump. That is, after the promo is over, your sales go way up. I’ve never bought into this theory because it’s usually predicated on the idea that you get the bump because your bestseller rank goes up on Amazon. Except whenever I see authors talking about their bump, they point to their category rank. Having a high category rank does nothing. I proved this a long time ago (skip ahead to the word “delusional” in that post). If your overall book rank hit the top 10, as might happen if you get a coveted BookBub spot (which I can’t), that should cause a nice knock-on sales effect. But being in the top 10 of some sub-sub-subcategory helps nothing but your ego.
However, I recently read a blog post that had a much more plausible explanation of the bump: Also Boughts. Read that post for the details, but the gist is that if lots of people “buy” your free book, then your book is likely to show up on the pages of people who are browsing Amazon. We know the bump is real. Authors always talk about it as the reason to run free promos. And now that I have a reasonable explanation of it to hold on to, I’m finally ready to try one.
It’s scheduled for May 4, so I’ll do a follow-up after that with my results. Since I’m “stacking” all the newsletter ads together, I won’t have any way to tell which ones worked and which didn’t. But that’s a very solid list of well-respected performers (particularly the two expensive ones), so I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t do much better. (Within the constraints I have: ENT won’t run ads for Entropy because the cover lacks a bare-chested male model, and BookBub is just a big bunch of meanies.)
- I will get a lot of downloads. Let’s guess 4000
- I won’t make it to the top 10 overall bestseller list
- I will get a bump in my KU reads of all my books
- I will see some sales and KU reads of the sequels in a couple weeks
- I won’t come anywhere close to making my money back
- I will have a loss on my 2018 Schedule C for the first time as a result of this lunacy