Generosity feels great and, in this incarnation of the book business, generosity is a marketing strategy if done right. Today, a giveaway and a case study in real time. (If you don’t know anything about This Plague of Days, check out ThisPlagueOfDays.com for sneak peeks.)
I released This Plague of Days, Season 1 as a serial. There were many reasons for doing it this way. I wrote it like a television mini-series and serialization opens up marketing opportunities. On the first day of Season One, I published the complete first season and Episode 1. Four more episodes followed each Monday. The episodes sold for 99 cents each or readers could get the whole season for $3.99.
For my initial giveaway, I put the first episode up for free for two days. I don’t believe in long promotions. By the time you’re done more than two days, you’ve exhausted your connections and momentum slows. I gave away about 1500 downloads of Episode 1 and stayed at the top of the Post-apocalyptic and Dystopian charts on the free side of Amazon for those two days. It’s really exciting sitting at #1 and #2 beside Hugh Howey.
An interesting thing happened next:
A bunch of readers liked Episode 1 but they stuck with the individual episodes. I watched my dashboard charts light up green with sales of Episodes 2, 3, 4 and 5 as people who got Episode 1 for free worked their way through the serial. The complete book of the season sold a bit, too, (at $3.99) but it seemed for readers to jump from episodes to the season at once, the discount would have had to be even deeper.
Pros and Cons of This Strategy
Pro: I gained a bunch of reviews for This Plague Of Days. Most readers dug it.
Con: Readers of Episode 1 only see the dad is an atheist and they may not stick around for the sweep of the story’s longer arc. The atheist dad has doubts about his lack of belief and his religious wife has doubts about her faith. I don’t dump it all in Episode 1 so, with serialization, you get judged by what you lead with. I’m not complaining. If you do something similar to what I’m doing, stay true to your vision, but don’t expect everyone to wait patiently for the payoffs later on. I have secret seeds planted in Season One that don’t bloom until Season Three.
Con: You’ll always get your worst reviews from free promotions.
Con: Some people who click free will never click “buy”. (Actually, that’s unfortunate, but it’s not really a “con” per se. I mention it because I anticipate resistance to these tactics. However, it’s not a true deficit in that it’s mostly irrelevant. These readers aren’t in my long-term equation for the same reasons the cobalt industry, Cadillac and Vera Wang don’t target me as a customer. Just as I’ll never be in those businesses’ target demographics, I’m hunting for converts, not free book shelvers.
Pro: All those downloads got me Also-bought listings and Amazon started selling the book for me with their mailing list. That’s a major plus on the brand visibility side of the argument.
Pro: As summer sales of Season One ebbed, I saw the momentum from July evaporate. I did what few say makes sense. I put the price up to $4.99. No one’s buying the episodes now, but they are buying the complete first season at the higher price. That could indicate that Season One was underpriced. Probably, but as I’ll argue below, that’s okay. I’m in this for the long-term. Discoverability is more important than sales for now.
What I’m doing differently for Season Two
In This Plague of Days, I’m trying to give a B movie an A treatment. To get traction for an unknown serial aimed at a smart crowd in an unfamiliar format, I think the starting price was fair and good for Season One. If you didn’t jump aboard before, for two days only, Season One of This Plague of Days is free to download on September 18 and 19th. (If you love it, please review it.) Season Two will also have some bonus material in the back.
Why give away an entire book? Isn’t that evil and the death of literature?
Season One is the gateway drug to Season Two and, for two days only, the first taste is free.
I’m using Freebooksy and Bookbub to let the world know. This publicity does cost money, potentially a few nasty reviews and maybe I’m leaving money on the table. However, it will get my name and Season One into the hands of at least 5,000 people. (If that doesn’t sound like much to you, consider that 5,000 paid sales equals a bestseller in Canada. I expect to hit #1 and #2 again and have some sales momentum behind me as I slide into the October launch of Season Two. This is marketing as an exercise in delayed gratification. I’ll sell more of Season Two because I’ll get more readers in on the ground floor of the serial. Besides, it’s a one-time only sale. Most readers will find the cash for the full price under their couch cushions, so let’s not get too dramatic about the losses or gains.
To put it another way, a la Seth Godin, “Too many people are reading my free ebook is not a problem” (as long as there are other books to sell.) To paraphrase author Cory Doctorow, Free isn’t my problem, “obscurity is my problem.” And finally, I quote myself for emphasis, “Generosity feels great…(and) discoverability is more important than sales for now.”
The Rationale: Season Two of This Plague of Days launches in a couple of weeks.
The story and the virus evolve together. This time out, TPOD has a different pace. Season One was like a television serial. Season Two is the action movie. It gets more paranormal and it’s loaded with surprises, chills and blood spills. Expect new villains and more twists from Ireland to Iceland to the Indianapolis Speedway. You’ll see the invasion of New York, the Midwest and the terrible events at Canada’s border with Michigan. It’ll sell for $4.99 this fall. In a month or so I’ll do a giveaway of Season Two, Episode 1 only.
Eventually I’ll put This Plague Of Days across more platforms and go for a price match so Episode 1 of Season One will be perma-free. I’ll experiment with price points, but the complete Season Two will never go free. The law of diminishing returns kicks in if you’re trying to get people to jump into the middle. (Ironically, you could jump straight into Season Two without reading Season One and you wouldn’t be lost at all. However, people don’t believe that. I never got into Ally McBeal because I missed the first episode.)
People who love zombies were very patient with Season One. The zombies don’t show up immediately but the dread keeps rising so I guess the suspense satisfied them until the heavier horror kicked in. They don’t have to wait for any action in Season Two, so I expect this phase of TPOD will go big all the way to Christmas (especially as other promotions kick in.)
The other thing that surprised me was how readers with family connections to autism, developmental delays and handicaps responded to the story. The protagonist is on the spectrum and those readers enjoyed seeing the world through his eyes. It’s not a long screed (and certainly punchier than this post) but those readers responded well to discussions of what it’s like to be the parent of an autistic kid. The family loves Jaimie, but they don’t romanticize his disabilities and his sister treats him like a normal kid treats a sibling who is often difficult to live with.
About Price Resistance
Selling episodes at 99 cents with 30% to me won’t keep me in cat food, but it did help with visibility. I gather those who started buying episodes in Season One will mostly choose to get the complete second season so they can find out right away what happens to the Spencer family and the British refugees.
It seems the greatest resistance to price increases lay not with the readers, but with yours truly. More readers are discovering my books at higher price points. I guess those higher prices make them confidant I know what I’m doing. So, while I’m still advocating short-term discount promotions, the trend with all my book prices is for them to climb. Done right, with a giveaway of sufficient numbers, free can still work. If I thought I could get more traction on other platforms, I’d try a different strategy. However, regarding promotion, it appears the other platforms are still lacking.
- Dystopian Braingasm: For word nerds and horror readers who love autistic heroes (chazzwrites.com)
- What happened to your city in This Plague of Days? (thisplagueofdays.com)
- FAQs: How to write books agents will hate (but readers might love) (chazzwrites.com)
- Writing Against the Grain: B Movies. A Treatments and the Deceptive Familiar (thisplagueofdays.com)