If you can’t sell it, give it away

It’s been about ten months since I “indie-published” my first novel, Chrysalis.

(I don’t really like the term indie publishing, because that signifies books from the small press, rather than what most of the ebook crowd are doing, which is self-publishing. But that term is loaded, too, since for so long it was synonymous with the vanity press. I guess it’s much like using “graphic novels” instead of comics; neither term is really apt, but they’re all we’ve got.)

I was kind of curious to see what response a book would get with no promotion. Nobody knows who I am, so no one would be looking for my book. All it had going for it were the cover that I had Photoshopped together and my words inside. (Which may have been two strikes against it, but just keep those opinions to yourself…) A few weeks after I clicked the publish button, we did a little announcement on Facebook, and the first few sales trickled in. 14 in all, undoubtedly from friends and family.

Even with such a pitiful number, it was a little rush to get that tiny royalty check, barely enough to pay for the photos I’d licensed for the cover.

Then, for the next eight months, it’s been mostly silence. I published to B&N’s Nook as well, where I got another single sale, presumably from another friend, but that’s not even enough to trigger a royalty payment, so that was my donation to B&N. Randomly, in March, there was another sale on Amazon–not sure if that was a late friend & family purchase or a stranger.

Not long after that, I decided to sign up for Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, to see if that would have any effect. The only catch, that I would have to delete the ebook from B&N, didn’t seem like much of a downside, considering the sales. But the Lending Library didn’t make any difference either. No one could find my book.

In all this time, there hasn’t been a single review either. This is the downside of self-publishing. You put your work out and there is no bang; there’s not even a whimper.

I’m not stupid. I know that some amount of promotion is necessary. But I don’t want to be the guy spamming Twitter or Amazon forums or whatever other corners of the internet saying, “Buy my book!”

The advice of several other “indie” authors is to have multiple “products” available, so that when a reader finds one book and likes it, they have something else to purchase as well. The data supports that, too–most of the big selling self-published books have been part of series. Since I don’t have another book completed, that option is out for the time being, though I am working on more.

However, my three month stint in the KDP Select (the Lending Library) was almost up, and I hadn’t used the other “perk” of the program. For five days of the three months, you can list your book as free. Doesn’t seem like much of a perk–giving something away instead of selling it. But it’s another avenue of promotion, and I figured I might as well give it a shot. This whole self-publishing venture has been a bit of an experiment anyway.

I set Chrysalis to go free for the five full days, Wednesday through Sunday. I changed the book description because the prior one (still listed in the sidebar of this blog) seemed a little bland.

Wednesday morning, I didn’t expect much. After ten months of nothing much, I expected nothing much again. To make matters worse, I woke up to an e-mail rejecting a story I’d submitted to the Writers of the Future contest. After moping around for most of the morning, I decided to check and see how my giveaway was going.

At 11am, 73 people had downloaded Chrysalis and it was listed at number 48 on the free suspense thrillers list. I almost fell out of my seat. I hadn’t tweeted about it, or announced it in any way. Who are these people who scour Amazon looking for free ebooks? (Google leads me to this website. Perhaps that’s it.)

It peaked on the chart this morning at #22, with 206 copies downloaded. At that point, my ebook was out-“selling” a James Patterson freebie. The pace has slowed considerably today, as the people who are willing to take a chance on an unreviewed book tapers off.

So what now?

It’s been a pretty cool experience to know that over 200 people have downloaded my book in two days. I know that it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the long run, but it’s been a nice morale booster. My biggest hope and greatest fear is that some small percentage of those who downloaded the book will read it and review it on Amazon. I hope they like it and fear they won’t. I now know that I should have done this freebie promotion sooner, as the quickest potential way to get reviews. It is a gamble, of course, since a few negative reviews could sink the book just as well as no reviews. Except that the right kind of negative reviews could be a boon. I dunno how many Amazon reviews saying a book is “too dark and violent and has too much profanity and sex and I just didn’t like any of the characters” have made me want to read the book.

What now?

Back to work on the next thing.

2 responses to “ If you can’t sell it, give it away ”

  1. Robert Benson says:

    Great news! Thanks for leading the way. Here’s hoping the strategy results in an audience for your words and a few future sales.

  2. photini says:

    I’m one of the people who downloads free books. I’ve found a lot of authors I like and bought other things based on free books. But honestly, I don’t even want to pay $2 for something that doesn’t grab me in the first chapter or so. I try to check the free books twice a day: morning and night. nothing makes me madder than to see on the free list a book for $2.99 that I hadn’t seen before – when was it free?

    Thanks to authors who for a chance with the free book to let us get to know them!

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