Authors look for all sorts of ways to promote their books. For the most part, we look to what other authors are doing. We read books on how to sell. We learn to juggle and ride a unicycle. Well, maybe not that last one, but I can assure you, if it worked, even a little, we'd be doing it. One of the ways we've learned to promote our indie books (self-published novels) is to offer it--for a limited time--for free.
Now why, do you ask, would an author give their book away for free when you are trying to sell them? Isn't this counter-intuitive? Counter productive? Here's the idea behind it. Since reviews are so important these days both on Goodreads and Amazon and Amazon has their own mysterious algorithms that push a high review-count-book into the faces of search engines, reviews are the new Bitcoins in the commerce of readership. Getting a large number of reviews for each book helps to sell more of them.
And so I, too, jumped on the bandwagon. I can't control any of the other Crispin Guest Medieval Mysteries except for the one I self-published, that of my prequel, CUP OF BLOOD. After my former publisher St. Martin's said good-bye to the series after six books, my agent embarked on a search for a new publisher. Not wanting a year to go by without a new Crispin book on the shelves, I opted to self-publish the actual first unpublished Crispin Guest mystery after a rewrite and a refreshing of the tale. It was released in May of 2014 and it didn't do badly. I didn't have the might and backing of a publisher with the book listed in a publisher's catalog, but I did have the advantage of previous books that librarians and bookstore buyers were already familiar with. And with a great review in Booklist and other venues, it found a place on library shelves and Kindle/Smashwords/iTune sales.
After a year the sales numbers began to lag. I hoped to boost them by getting more reviews. Up to that point, it had only gotten 51 Amazon reviews (both print and ebook). (I have never breached the 100 mark of reviews for any of my books. Only VEIL OF LIES, the first published book, has gotten close at 84). So I joined the ranks of thousands of my fellow indie authors and decided to offer the book for free on a limited basis in order to boost reviews. When you publish with Kindle Direct Publishing as I had for my ebook version, you have the ability to offer the book for free for five days. But in order to do so, you must opt your book into the Kindle Unlimited program.
Kindle Unlimited has been making a lot of noise lately. It is misunderstood by authors and readers alike. Essentially what it is for readers is Netflix for books. A reader pays a monthly fee and gets an "unlimited" amount of books to download for "free." But as anyone knows who is offered free stuff, you grab all you can regardless of whether you will ever read all those books loaded onto your Kindle device. For the author, this now becomes imperative, because though Amazon's Kindle Unlimited may look like a great deal for readers, it can be a nightmare for authors. If readers don't read a certain minimum of pages in their Kindle ebook, the author DOES NOT GET PAID. Yeah, you read that right. Amazon puts away a certain amount of money out of the KU fees they collect into an author fund, but if a reader discards the book too soon, no money for the author. And now it's a sliding scale for the authors, the more that is read, the more the author gets paid. And just like No Child Left Behind might have sounded like a good idea in theory but became teachers just teaching to the test because higher scores meant bonuses and lower scores meant loss of funding for the school, authors started getting savvy and decided to write shorter books, even breaking up novels into three parts. Shorter snappier books, they reasoned, would help keep the reader reading longer.
Well, none of that sounds very good for anyone.
But I digress. In order for me to put my book CUP OF BLOOD on sale for FREE for THREE DAYS I had to opt in (and authors need to understand that you must OPT IN to KU...at least at this juncture) for THREE MONTHS. So for three months, all those signed up for KU could download my book for free--but I wouldn't be paid in that period unless readers read enough pages. But for three DAYS in July 2015 that I offered the book for free, ANYONE could get the book for free for their Kindle.
Knowing all this--that tons would be downloaded but few would read it and even fewer review it--it was worth a chance. So I offered it for the three-day Fourth of July weekend. Over 4,000 downloaded, which is good but not great. I've seen others with huge amounts of downloads. It made it to #2 in Free Kindle Downloads for that week on Amazon. Out of those 4,000 I speculated--perhaps generously--that maybe a quarter of that amount, 1,000, would actually read it. And of that 1,000 I further speculated--hoped!--that a quarter of that would review it, so 250 more reviews. That would certainly make a huge difference in the algorithms.
What I got instead were 20 more reviews from July to November of this year and all but one of those was a "verified purchase" meaning that for that particular book money changed hands. Not Kindle Unlimited money or even Prime member money where Amazon Prime members can download a free book a month. But actual paid-for-that-book-in-a-purchase money. Which is nice, but that meant that of those 4,000 free downloaded books none or maybe one of the reviews came from this little experiment of mine.
Is giving away a book for free good for authors? It's good when you send it to a reviewer and your book gets a mention on a reviewer's blog. It's good in a gift basket to raffle off for charitable events. I offer them as Giveaways for my online events such as blog tours and my recent Virtual Book Launch I just did on Facebook for my latest release THE SILENCE OF STONES from my new publisher Severn House. But is it a good deal on Amazon? Some authors swear by it. Authors in other genres, mostly.
A few months out my vote would be a big No. But maybe I'm rushing it. Maybe it takes a year or more to make a difference. I'll keep you posted if things change.