C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Ultimate Blog Challenge: Considering free ebooks

July 16, 17, 18

The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories is FREE 

Small-town terrors and psychological mayhem in Maine.

Last week I read a couple of debates about whether free is good or bad. JA Konrath is all for it. Blake Crouch isn’t so sure. There are good points on both sides of the debate. You’ll notice I’m offering one of my short story collections for free for three days this week in the hope that I will gain some readers who wouldn’t otherwise find me. I do so wholeheartedly and hope you’ll go grab it. It helps to get on lists like “Customers Also Viewed…” and so on. This post is about book promotion. I think Free is still a useful tool, though its edge has dulled considerably.

The root of the back and forth on the issue of using free as a promotional tool seems to break down along two main lines:

1. Argument against free from principle (i.e. Art shouldn’t be devalued and lowering readers’ expectations of price is a stupid strategy in the long term.) Argument 1 might be right in the long-term, but if I don’t get into your consciousness now, there may be no long-term for me as a writer. Also, the exclusivity that KDP Select requires — three months at a time — rubs many authors raw. Amazon has certainly lost some of its shine and if you lose too many sales because you aren’t up on Kobo etc.,… as well, free days on Amazon probably don’t make sense past your first three months of offering the book. It’s also argued, often effectively, that free feeds the trolls of the one-star review brigade who review harshly because they didn’t pay attention to what they were “buying.” Or they’re just it in to be mean trolls, I guess. So you can argue that free hurts not only the cause of enlightened literacy generally, but it hurts author’s feelings and review ratings individually.

2. Argument for free because it works (i.e. If you can write, you can sell books, but not if no one knows who you are. Give away to get new readers.) Argument 2 is weakened because, since Amazon changed its algorithms, free doesn’t work nearly as well as it did a few months ago. People are loading up their kindles, but are they ever getting around to reading all that hoarded goodness so they could, theoretically, become a fan and buy the rest of my books? (If you don’t have multiple books for sale, free surely won’t help you now. Have multiple books going before you dive into KDP Select’s free days.)

So here’s my strategy:

A. I try not to confuse an Ought with an Is. The Dangerous Kind & Other Stories is a collection of fun suspense and small-town mayhem in Poeticule Bay, Maine. In the future, I plan a series of suspenseful novels set in Poeticule Bay. Many of my stories have characters who cross-pollinate other stories. (For instance, Jesus Diaz, my luckless Cuban hit man, shows up first in a story in Self-help for Stoners.) There is worthy cross-promotion in this.

B. I added value to this collection. The novella, The Dangerous Kind and several of the stories were previously published individually and sold for 99 cents each. I added two more stories to the collection, including the award winner The Sum of Me (which brought down the house when I gave a reading at a writers conference a few years ago.) The Sum of Me appeals to writers or anyone who has struggled with credit card debt. The usual price of the collection is only $2.99 and for three days, it’s free. Good deal.

C. What I put up on Amazon for free will only be available for a limited time. After my three-month exclusivity contract with KDP Select is over, I’ll put the books up on the other platforms. (As mentioned last week on this blog, Kobo, as one instance, is changing things up and coming on stronger. Keep an eye on them.)

Questions remain: When I read a guru with a big name say we should do this or that to sell our books, I wonder, does the same strategy work for a big name as a small one? Is every bit of advice fungible? Things change. If we were still on Amazon’s old Free List to Paid List formula (and maybe if we weren’t in the middle of a glut of free) I’d already be sitting pretty.

Good strategies are realistic, doable, measurable, timely (and are always declared “good” after the fact and without factoring in luck.) I’ll let you know if this strategy moves the needle.

Free might not be as good as it once was,

but now I don’t know what else to do to get off the bench besides write another book.

I’m already doing that.


Filed under: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Responses

  1. fuonlyknew says:

    Thank you Chazz. I will finish reading Bigger Than Jesus first and then read this one.

  2. I downloaded it (a) cuz it was free and (b) cuz I haven’t read anything by you other than this blog. Still undecided about the free thing – my debut novel expected to be out in August. God, I worked so hard on it I hate to give it away. But your points are noted…

    • Chazz says:

      I understand. However, I just lolled at my rankings and it appears that the free sales are bleeding into my other books. One book’s ranking wasn’t available for some reason, but all the others are green arrows up. Hopeful.

  3. Reena Jacobs says:

    I’m always late for these posts, since I’m only subscribed to receive your posts once a week. I should probably change that since I always end up blabbing on some of your posts for the week. There… made the change. 🙂

    Anyway, I liked free until the Amazon KDP Select thingamajig. Prior to that, free books were limited. I know Amazon price matched, but not all books were picked up. So finding/offering free books was a bit more special.

    With Amazon KDP, there’s really nothing special happening. Amazon is flooded with free books. And to be honest, I don’t see a reason to purchase eBooks from Amazon any more. There are A LOT of awesome free books available these days… not just crap books, but REALLY good books.

    Granted, my Kindle broke in March and I went with a Nook instead, but even before my Kindle broke, I’d stopped looking to Amazon for book purchases (print & digital). The Book Depository offers free shipping worldwide regardless of how much I spend on print, so there’s no advantage to waiting until I have $25 worth of purchases to go through Amazon.

    As for offering a book free on Amazon, like you said, the algorithm has changed. Unless the author finds a way to really market the free promotion, 5 days usually is not enough to boost a books up the rank significantly. After expending the 5 days and receiving very little recognition, the author is still stuck with the exclusivity clause. Goodbye potential sales from other distribution channels.

    Add that all to the fact the market is flooded with free books (I know I mentioned that earlier). So, the chances of readers finding one book out of the mass is a lot harder than it was when free books were more of a novelty.

    I did give Amazon KDP Select a chance though… with two books. Doesn’t hurt to give it a shot. It’s worked to the advantage of some authors, but not for most, from what I’ve seen.

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