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.

My Biggest Promotion Ever is Coming Soon

You have to spend money to make money.

I really wonder if that saying applies to indie authors. Later this month, I will be having the largest, most expensive, and wide-spread promotion I’ve ever done.

I have no idea what the outcome will be, and I don’t pretend to think it will be successful. I’m simply following another saying: you never know until you try.

I’m pretty sure that all indie authors have felt the squeeze the last couple of years. The number of free and discounted websites have either dwindled or changed policies in order to keep up with their costs. It’s simply a lot more expensive to advertise today as an indie author than it was in 2013.

The competition is also much fiercer. I can’t imagine the number of new novels and books which are flooding the market each month. How many are from new authors? A lot, I bet. I also won’t pretend to evaluate the quality of the books either. In all honesty, it’s a rare book that grabs my attention these days. What I typically see on social media is simply not a draw for me. I have no idea how my novels stack up with the average indie novel, whatever that means.

For me, I’m satisfied with what I have produced. I’m not ashamed to put my name on the novels, anyhow. That’s enough for me. Of course, I’m always thrilled when I’m able to connect with a reader or have someone recommend my work.

So here I am, gearing up for my largest promotion ever. I’m dishing out some cash, okay if it never comes back. I have a novel I believe in, the reviews have been fantastic so far (received a great one today I’ll shared soon), and I’m willing to take that next step. Could it be one step forward, two steps back? Possibly. But it’s time to make a push, and if it fails, I’ll try again at another time, and if that fails … It’s okay. I’m not in it for the money.

More details on the promotions coming soon!