This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Giving Away What You Can Sell

            In the bad old days of self-publishing — less than ten years ago, actually — an author looked at a pile of his or her books and saw dollar signs. Not so much the dollars the books would bring in the unlikely event they ever sold, but rather the dollars in outlay they already represented.
            Having gone to a so-called vanity press and shelled out a significant sum of money for a couple thousand books, the author was beginning deep in the hole, financially speaking. The mere act of giving away a book to crazy Aunt Kate was painful because it represented a loss of money already spent and diminished the limited supply of inventory that could potentially be sold to recover some of the investment.
            Giving away a bunch of books as free promotions to attract readers? Unthinkable. Might as well start a fire in the fireplace and start throwing U.S. currency into it. Only a wealthy author with an outsized ego (do authors have any other kind of ego?) could even consider it.

Giving Away Pixels

            The e-book revolution and Amazon have changed all that and made free book giveaways a part of the new author’s marketing strategy. With no ink, paper and shipping costs to cover, it’s no problem to give your book away, and probably a good idea from a marketing standpoint. It took me a while to realize that, but now I’ve embraced it with a vengeance.
            When I published the e-book version of my mystery novel The McHenry Inheritance on Amazon last summer, the outsized-ego part of me was expecting it to be greeted with a parade and a White House reception, even as the rational part of me knew that was ridiculous. To the great American public, I’m just one of thousands, if not millions, of unknown authors.
            I had, however, signed up for Amazon’s Kindle Select program, which allows authors to offer the book free five days out of every three months. A couple of self-published authors I contacted through Twitter recommended doing that. Figuring it would be worth a try, I put my book up as a free promotion the second day it was on Amazon, and before I began notifying my friends, who I figure would be willing to pay the $2.99 it cost otherwise.
            On that first free promotion day, 250 people bought the book, which was a very respectable showing, and I’ve run several free promotions since.

Establishing What It’s Worth

            At this point, of course, a cynic could argue that all I’ve done is establish what my book is worth, namely nothing. But I don’t see it that way. As an unknown author, my first challenge is to find readers and start generating some word of mouth among those who like the book. If a free promotion gets me a few readers I otherwise wouldn’t have had, I consider myself ahead. Financially, I’m certainly not behind.
            My thinking has turned from the original idea of making a little money on the first book to the notion that the first book is the loss-leader that will set up sales for the second one. Hence, the more freebies that get snapped up, the better. Last weekend I did a free promotion day and moved 156 copies.
            Who knows how many of the people getting my book that way are actually reading it? I suspect that fewer than half will ever so much as start it. But a few who do, and who like it and tell their friends, can do me a lot of good. My fingers are crossed.