To authors: why is "free" a great marketing strategy? Last year, I wrote about why setting your eBook at a 99-cent price may not be a great move unless it's the first in a series. However, with Amazon's new KDP Select program, where your book is exclusive to Kindle for 90 days and you get five days of setting your book to "free," it can help you in terms of making sales IF you meet the right parameters.
To readers, "free" is great because you can't beat the price, and you can discover new authors.
I bring this up because I recently offered my award-winning short story collection Months and Seasons for free as well as my novel The Brightest Moon of the Century, and I had certain aims. I've watched others use the free promotion well, but certain goals need to be met for a book to work. First, you really have to have a POPULAR download, and I mean two thousand copies or more have to be given away over a two-or-three-day period.
It's because the more a book is downloaded, the better in ranking it is on Amazon's lists. After all, if I can get ranked well on the lists for humor, for short stories, for literary, and perhaps for overall downloading, the more people will buy it when it goes back to $2.99 on Saturday. That's because it'll still be ranked high.
So what are the ideal parameters? My friend Anthony at Digital Book Today provided me with these figures for one day of my downloads:
The total free books on Amazon at 7:0o a.m. CST: 3359 titles (counting all the classics, public domain, etc) - this changes hourly.
Total free books added just for today - 494
Total free books with zero reviews - just over 200+
Total free books (of the 494 added today) with 10+ reviews - 54
Total free books (of the 494 added today) with 10+ reviews AND 4.0+ stars - 41 - most of these books get added to The Top 100 Best Free Kindle Books List.
My short story collection, with twelve reviews and mostly five-star ratings, meets the last criteria. As I wrote this blog, the book was #7 on Amazon's Short Story collection list and it remained in the top twenty for most of the three days. The book had been a finalist in the international Frank O'Connor Short Story Award out of Ireland a few years ago, and the critics have been fabulous with this book—long reviews and high ratings.
Here's what I've learned from Anthony's analysis as well as trying "free" a few times this year with other books.
1) Don't go "free" until you're book has been out long enough to get reviews. You get good reviews by writing well. Don't rush to publication, but hire an editor. Be professional. I worked in publishing, and I've learned I can't be my own final editor.
2) Learn how to use Twitter and Facebook and other things to market your book, which can lead to reviews. I created a bunch of links for a class I taught at UCLA in independent publishing, and these links might help you. You can get this list by clicking here.
3) Announce your free book a few days in advance just to get people ready for it.
4) Use Twitter, Facebook, and email to get the word out when it's free.
5) Choose your free days as weekdays. I've found there's more traffic on Amazon during the week than the weekend.
6) Be lucky. "Luck" is really defined as the subjective things that you can't control. Does your cover hit people just right? Is your book's description just right? Did a beloved movie star die on the day you go out? (You don't want that unless your book is a biography of that star.)
The Results: I gave out a total of 758 copies of Months and Seasons over three days. That was a little better than the 505 copies of The Brightest Moon of the Century over two days. I didn't hit the magic 2,000 for either. I only sold a half-dozen of each book immediately after the promos were over. This shows me a few things:
- The competition is so stiff even for free books that more you can alert readers and websites in advance, the better.
- Genre titles (mysteries, thrillers, romance, paranormal) are likely to do better than literary stories.
- You need luck, man.
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