To Give Free or Not to Give Free: An Indie Author’s Dilemma

I’m back staring at the same promotional dilemma that seemingly doesn’t have a great answer: is it still worth it for indie authors to offer e-books for free?

Three years ago when I jumped into the indie foray, the answer in my opinion was a  resounding ‘yes!’ But now, I’m not so sure.

My free Kindle days over the past two years have been less frequent, but they have also met with less downloads than I achieved back in the “hey-day” of free – 2013. (At least that was my experience)  With my first and second novels, I’ve received massive amounts of downloads which led to many reviews and even some residual book sales. But my experiences of 2014 and 2015 have altered my thinking.

First off, it must be said that there are fewer and fewer sites which will advertise free books without wanting payment. But even the times that I have  paid for advertising, I haven’t had huge downloads (average amount only) and I’ve noticed no up-tick in sales and no noticeable reviews which I can link to the free downloads.

Second, is there such a glut of free books on the market that readers just  stock their devices with reads most of them  will never get around to reading? I think it’s true. Members of my friends and family are examples of this.

I have run numerous 99 cent sales and they have been met with varying success. Sales definitely pick up and then eventually fall back down again.

Is it now better to build in some perceived value by not offering free books anymore? The book market has certainly been devalued. Of course, no author thinks their writing is worth only 99 cents, but there is not a lot of other tangible options available except for running the occasional sale and trying to hook in new readers.

I haven’t ever tried to run a free book promotion through BookBub (nor would it be assured because of their selective nature), but I’ve read accounts of other authors that in the case of BookBub, it is worth it because of their massive exposure. So is that the answer, only offer free books if accepted through BookBub?

Of course, I have no answers. I’ve read a lot of other blogs on the topic, and opinions vary widely. I’m currently on this policy: I generally raised the prices of my ebooks and work hard  to promote during promotional periods. I have no plans to offer free books again anytime soon, though I won’t rule it out completely.

How about you? Any thoughts or wisdom on the topic you’d like to share? I’m all ears!

Ad Assessment: What I learned from trying everything.

Last weekend I had the largest sale of my entire indie author career. I spent the most money on advertising than I ever had before. I had the largest mark-down I’ve ever had on a book, and I had certain goals that I had hoped to achieve.

Well, how’d it go, you might ask?

Actually, the results were a mixed bag. I did not achieve the completely random number of sales which I had hoped to achieve, but I did sell a bunch of books and that’s always helpful. I absolutely lost money, which is not unexpected as I’m certainly not anywhere near the point where I’m making significant money off my books. (not that that is my ultimate goal in writing – it isn’t) This sale did give me a chance to evaluate some of my marketing strategies.

  1. I learned that one website (which I have used before in the past) definitely delivers. I’m going to refrain to say which because I’m not here to give anyone else a competitive advantage. I think everyone should learn by trial and error, like me. 🙂 But I have come to realize that whenever I can get on this website for advertising, it’s worth it, so I’ll continue to seek it out.
  2. I tried several other websites and the results were disappointing. They, of course, make great claims, and seem to have some good options for not a ton of money, but in reality, the results weren’t there. I’m not going to publish the names of these websites either because I don’t mean to disparage anyone in particular. Perhaps these websites have been effective for other authors. They haven’t been for me.
  3. What about Facebook? I did run some Facebook ads in conjunction with my advertising blitz, and the results were not as good as in the past. But Facebook continues to be an important feature in my overall name recognition struggle. I’ve been able to continually add new likes to my page, and that can only be a positive.
  4. Twitter. I’m sorry. I still don’t get Twitter. I really must be missing something. I wish someone could make me like it. I just don’t.

My trial and error approach to advertising has yielded some positive results which I will continue to try to exploit. It’s a constant struggle between being willing to spend significant money (which I don’t have) or just letting your books sit idly and unnoticed. I’ve learned a lot and I’ll continue to push in all directions to try to find the best possible ways to expand readership.

The most important part of my entire promotional program is simply not to give up. I won’t. I haven’t. Let’s keep it going.

Indie Authors Plan – the Reading Gods Laugh

Indie authors plan – the reading gods laugh.

An indie author can only cast a wide net.

The problem is that there is no way to know how many readers will be caught in the net’s webbing. Sometimes it’s a great haul. Sometimes it’s a rusty can and an old boot.

Is there anything less scientific in the world than trying to determine how to find readers?

I’ve posted recently about my anemic Goodreads ad. I’ve had a lot of anemic ads.

I’ve had some ads that have worked.

I’ve had free promotions which were amazing – digital copies flew off the imaginary shelves like a black Friday sale at Walmart.

I’ve had free promotions which were quite stagnant.

I’ve had good reviews which generated a bunch of sales.

I’ve had good reviews which generated about as much interest as my former cat had in me petting her.

What does it all mean?

It means that indie authors plan, the reading gods laugh.

There is no formula.

No magic bullet.

No one size fits all marketing plan that will work. There’s no guaranteed blog tour, or Amazon algorithm, or amazing guest post, or (most definitely) Goodreads ad which is going to be the magical breakthrough you are looking for.

What am I saying? Is it useless to try and promote your writing?

Not at all. It is just impossible to know what will work. (It’s rather easy to know what will not work, but I’m guessing you’ll try it anyways. Why not? It’s just money.)

The reading gods are in control. They laugh at our effort, and they occasionally grand mercy on a poor indie soul, by opening the floodgates and releasing untold readers upon an unsuspecting plot.

When it will happen, nobody knows.

Who it will happen to, nobody knows.

All an indie author is to do is to keep the faith, keep promoting, cast that wide net, try new things, and try your darnedest to ingratiate yourself into the bosom of the reading gods.

You just never know.

(Can you tell I spent the afternoon on promotion?)

I clearly don’t know how to write ad copy yet.

I wrote this ad for Goodreads: “Please read my book. It’s very boring. It’s got three, two-star reviews.”

Okay, that’s not exactly the wording, but the effect of the actual ad that I wrote would have been the same.

I’ve dabbled in Goodreads Self-Advertising a time or two with mixed results. I’ve gotten plenty of clicks in the past for ad copy I have written, but for this new ad, zero clicks stacked upon zero clicks, followed up by zero clicks.

Yes, it must be the worst ad in the history of the world. No, I won’t post the actual copy. I’d be too embarrassed.

Well, I finally had time to change the wording. I completely got rid of every consonant, syllable, or vowel which was remotely associated with the first ad. So, hopefully, things will start clicking.

These are the small, challenging things about being an indie author. Where to advertise? And after the ‘where’ is decided, how to advertise? All the decisions, all the planning, all the time, all the strategy is up to me. It’s a lot to take on, and really the major challenge that indie authors face.

Writing stories is the easy part.

Writing ad copy and managing all the other stresses of promoting ones work is the difficult part.

But the fact remains, the promoting is just as important as the writing, unless your purpose for writing is only to produce pages of words in which to line the walls of your reclusive writer’s cave. (and my wife’s not going for that)