Sunday, December 16, 2012

FREE Books - HBS Author's Spotlight Survey

Here is the question presented recently to our HBS Author's Spotlight Crew. The survey was a part of a blog: Free Books: Give it away. Just give it away.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in other types of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

Dani Amore
Award-winning Mystery Novelist
Author's Blog: Dani Amore
Twitter: @authordaniamore

It's been an interesting experience giving away books for free. Probably in relation to the amount of time and effort I spent promoting the free books, my results have been varied. Sometimes a given book might be downloaded tens of thousands of times. Other instances, a few hundred. I saw modest spikes in sales of other books, and maybe a few reviews, but not many. Overall, I'm pleased that people are reading my work, that's the main thing.

Troy Blackford
Paranormal Action-Adventure and Short Stories Author
Website: Troy Blackford - Journey to Death at Lifespeed
Twitter: @TBlackford3

I've participated in the Kindle Direct Publishing 'KDP Select' free Kindle promotions a number of times. I've managed to give away thousands of copies, and I think it's a good development because you get your works in the hands of people who might be apprehensive about 'plunking down cash' for a book they don't know by an author they as yet have no reason to trust.

My main goal was getting the work out there and hope people would like it and perhaps spread the word.

The main obstacle I've noticed lately is that I set up a few promotions a month in advance, and twice now I've forgotten I did it until a few hours after the start of the day - limiting my ability to promote it fully. But the overall effect has been a good one - as I am just starting out, I'd rather lots of people read and potentially enjoy my work than make a relatively small amount of money by selling it to a low number of people.

Pamela Burford
Award-winning novelist and speaker
Website: Pamela Burford
Twitter: @PamelaBurford

I made my fun foodie romance, Too Darn Hot, free beginning in September. My purpose was to rise in Kindle's best-seller lists and to prompt sales of my other books. This was my first freebie promo and it succeeded on both fronts. Hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded Too Darn Hot, and some of those readers have liked the book enough to buy my other backlist romance, Snowed, as well as my romantic suspense novel, Snatched, a quirky book that has been called "Janet Evanovich meets the Coen Brothers." Most authors I've spoken with agree that pricing promotions are a great way to get your name out there.

Erik Christian
Experienced Fiction and Non-fiction Author
Author's Blog: erikchristian - Writing of that not written
Website: Erik Christian
Twitter: @SimplyAfterDark

Hi James! Short answer, I love the free promotion offered on KDP. I try and split up the 5 days free into two segments. Yes, it has helped sells considerably, as you can see from my rank of "Drunk" which was free just a few days ago.

Stacy Eaton
International Best Selling Author
Author's Blog: Stacy Eaton, Author
Website: Stacy Eaton
Twitter: @StacySEaton

Four part question, so I’m going to treat each one as a separate question.

What has been your experience in giving your books away free?

By Nature, I’m a giver, so giving things away makes me feel good. Sounds sappy doesn’t it, well it is the truth. I put Whether I’ll Live or Die up free for 2 days last month and gave away over 8,000 copies in 5 countries. My husband asked me why I would want to give them away, I told him because I wrote this book to get the word out on Domestic Violence and now it is in the hands of over 8000 more people who might be able to help someone or themselves.

All in all, my experiences with listing my books for free on Amazon have been good. This last giveaway was the best and I loved seeing the numbers roll in. I climbed the rankings to the #21 spot on the Free Kindle Books list. That was the highest I had ever been -Talk about exciting!

After I came off my free days, I continued to rank is some of the categories for almost two weeks. I dropped off, but pop back on every few days. My sales that month were the best ever for not only Whether I’ll live or Die, but for the My Blood Runs Blue Series.

Have you been involved in other types of giveaways and how did that work out?

I’ve done several paper giveaways, and a few electronic giveaways on blogs. This doesn’t even compare to those. In those circumstances, people were winning copies, not just getting them for free.

What was your main goal in doing this?

My goal is always to get my story out there into the hands of readers. Whether I’ll Live or Die is a very serious story with an intense message and if others read it, maybe they can help someone, or themselves. With my series, there are so many paranormal books out there that I wanted people to try it out. I still consider myself a new author as I have only published 3 books since I first started writing in Oct 2010. I don’t have a problem with giving my books for free like some people do. Yes, of course, I work hard for my work and I invest a lot of money into what I write through editing, graphics and marketing, but I also know that giving my book away to 8K or even 12k worth of readers will still leave millions of people who have not read my books and might just be willing to buy them.

Did you run into any obstacles?

I have never run into any obstacles really. I can say that there were times I did not promote my free day as well as I should have and the results weren’t that great, but generally, I have always been satisfied with the way things have turned out. We shall see if that stays the same when I list My Blood Runs Blue Free on Dec 18th and Blue Blood for Life on December 26th.

Dave Folsom
Mystery & Thrillers Author
Author's Blog: Dave Folsom - All About This and That
Website: Dave Folsom's Books
Twitter: @davefolsombooks

What has been your experience in giving your books away free?

I give away a lot of books to friends and family which seems to generate sales. Friends of friends and friends of family and so on. These sales are easy to document as they usually say something when they buy either directly or indirectly.

Have you been involved in other types of giveaways and how did that work out?

I have used both the Goodreads Giveaway program and Kindle’s Free Days. Both resulted in a large number of responses and considerable exposure. How much this affected the sales that followed is difficult to measure. I am planning to use both on my new book Sonoran Justice coming out soon. I’ve also used blog interviews and online advertising which I’m sure has an effect but it’s difficult to measure.

What was your main goal in doing this?

The main is, of course, exposure. People talk, especially if they like the book, and that generates sales. Unfortunately, this is a slow uphill battle solved only by some sort of mass market and expensive advertizing.

Did you run into any obstacles?

None, except Amazon’s exclusivity requirement. This as you all know restricts your online sales to Kindle only. Not a real big deal since as soon as my five free days were over I made other sell sites live.

Melissa Foster
Award-winning Author and founder of the World Literary Café
Author's Blog: Melissa Foster Blog
Website: Melissa Foster
Twitter: @Melissa_Foster

Hi James, thank you so much for the opportunity, but I don't do freebies any longer:-)

Ron Fritsch
Historical Fiction Author
Website: Promised Valley
Twitter: @RonFritsch

I give away my books to my reading friends and to anybody else who asks for freebies, in whatever form they want, but I've never offered them free to the general public.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the persons who might read my books would be impressed with a giveaway. I've never offered them free to the general public. The ebook versions cost $2.99, and the paperback versions are available for about ten dollars (and much less than that if the reader is willing to buy a used paperback -- from my friends, no doubt, cashing in). I'm not so interested in huge numbers of downloads now or immediate bestsellerdom as I am in numbers of readers over the long run. I've published the first three novels of a four-book series. The novels are set at the end of prehistory and ask whether civilization and history, with their innumerable senseless wars, might've begun differently. They qualify as historical fiction (prehistoric fiction subgenre), gay and lesbian fiction (LGBTQ's are fully accepted and often honored in my utopia/dystopia), and literary fiction. (Although I must say my second novel, with "war" in its title, won an award for "action fiction," much to my delight.) Since I doubt even a successful giveaway would help me reach my goal, I haven't spent any time or energy on one.

James, if you can't use any of this, I'll certainly understand. But I truly don't have any experience with a giveaway. Maybe you can somehow use this as a misguided contrarian's point of view. Believe me, I won't be offended.

Rayne Hall
Fantasy and Horror Author
Website: Rayne Hall
Twitter: @RayneHall
E-Mail: rayne[underscore]hall[underscore]author[at]yahoo[dot]com

Amazon allows publishers to make a book free for five days, although only on condition that that book is exclusive to Amazon for three months. That's a major snag, because it means we can't sell the book on Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes or Barnes & Noble, and it supports Amazon's drive towards a monopoly.

I've experimented with the five days free-books promo. The number of free downloads varied greatly, between 1000 and 11,0000 (in the case of Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts), even if I promoted them the same way. It may be seasonal (people more interested in books in some months than others) or it may have to do with how many other books happen to be free on the same date.

Several of my books shot up high on the bestseller lists during their five day promos. Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft made it near the top of the Fantasy Anthologies list and Cutlass: Ten Tales of Pirates climbed in Sea Adventures. Haunted: Ten Tales of Ghosts was on five bestseller lists, and on three of them (Horror, Ghost, Short Stories) it was No 1.

Once the free-book promo is over, there's usually a short period when real sales and loans rise as a result of the increased exposure.

The best results with the five days free-book promo was when I made one of the Six Scary Tales books free. For a month afterwards, the other Six Scary Tales books showed increased sales. Whether or not that was worth removing the book from Kobo, Barnes&Noble, iTunes and Smashwords is another question.

The number of downloads may give an inflated idea of the promotion's success. Only a fraction of the downloads lead to actual reads. Many people download anything that's free and have hundreds of books on their Kindle which they never get round to reading. Others are interested in the book and download it, but after a few pages they find they don't like it, so they stop. With a paid book, they would download the sample pages, but with a free book, they download the whole book.

A major drawback to the five day free-book promo on Amazon is that it almost always draws negative reviews. People who are picky about books they buy are less selective about what they download, and when they find it's not what they wanted, they vent their frustration in reviews. Worse, there's always a flurry of reviews like this “I don't have time to read this book, but Amazon wants me to review it, so I give it two stars.”

Besides the five-day promo, there's also the option of making the book free via a price-match. If one of Amazon's major competitors (e.g. Barnes&Noble or Kobo) offers the book free, Amazon will often follow suit. However, this doesn't always happen, and you may need to enlist the help of friends to report the lower price before Amazon takes action. Even then, it may be a yoyo pattern. After I made the fantasy anthology The Devil Eats Here free on Kobo, Amazon made it free as well - but only for American customers. Even more bizarrre, it was free only to some American customers, but not for others, and it seemed to change every day. My dashboard showed simultaneous free downloads and sales. Sometimes listed the book as free, sometimes not. This constant change has made it impossible to promote the book as free.

Patrick Hatt
Best Selling Author
Author's Blog: It's Rhyme Time
Website: Pat Hatt Books
Twitter: @PatHatt24

My experience in giving them away for free has been it helps a ton, depending upon how it is done. I find those rafflecopter things are just annoying people now, as there are way to many of them and people just ignore them. But if you set up some free days on amazon, you get tons of exposure. People download your free book and if they like it will want to see your other ones. Every time I have set it up free on amazon, I have always gotten sales of my other books and sales of the free book when its free run was over. The main goal was to create more of a buzz and awareness around my books and it worked. The only obstacle you have to watch out for is not to do it too often or people will just wait for the free days and never buy your books.

Devin C. Hughes
Award-winning speaker and a bestselling author
Website: Devin C. Hughes
Twitter: @DevinCHughes

I give away quite a few books to a variety of folks who attend my events and also to people who I may come in contact with my travels. I have not been a part of any formal book giveaway events or programs. I giveaway books to promote me and my brand and I have no hesitation whatsoever to continue doing so.

M.R. Mathias
Award-winning self-published Fantasy Writer
Author's Blog: M. R. Mathias Connection Hub
Website: M.R. Mathias Fantasy Author
Twitter: @DahgMahn

I give away books all the time. It sometimes helps, sometimes not. Here is how it helps ME: I give away book one of a series, or a prequel type novella. If people like it they buy books two and three. If you only have one or two titles you may be hurting yourself. I have four series, so this works well for me. The 23rd thru the 27th of Dec. I am giving away book one of "The Legend of Vanx Malic - Through the Wildwood" on Amazon. I am doing that as a Christmas gift to my fans though, not for any other purpose.

Amy Metz
Mystery & Thrillers Author, blogger and book editor
Author's Blog: A Blue Million Books
Website: Amy Metz, author
Twitter: @goosepimpleisms

I noticed a big jump in sales when my eBook was lowered from $4.99 to .99. My book ranking dropped in one day approximately 3,400 points. Before the price drop, it ranked anywhere from 50,000 to 125,000. One day into the drop I was at 16,000. Four days after the drop, it's stayed steady in the 30,000 range.

So I definitely think dropping the price helped in that a lot of people will give a book a try if it's just .99. How can you lose for .99, right? My goal was to get more people to give my book a try and that was achieved.

I participated in a giveaway on Goodreads. The giveaway promotion ran for about three weeks, and I got over 600 entries. I have no idea if the giveaway helped sales, but it did make it more visible to people who might not have seen it otherwise, which was my goal.

Jake Needham
Best-selling Mystery & Thrillers Author
Author's Blog:
Website: Jake Needham
Twitter: @jakeneedham

I've done KDP Select give-aways of two of my titles and have had rather interesting results.

In April, I offered free copies of THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE through KDP Select and nearly 40,000 copies were downloaded worldwide over the five days it was available, about half of those in the US and half in the UK and Europe. In the months immediately following, the total sales of of my titles jumped by 3000-4000 copies per month. By September, however, my total sales per month were only about 700 copies above what they had been in March.

In November, I tried KDP Select again with KILLING PLATO. In the three days that free copies have so far been available, just over 15,000 copies were downloaded worldwide. Once again, the downloads were about evenly split between the US and the UK and Europe. The jump in sales since the mid-November offering has so far been much smaller this time, perhaps 800 copies all together over the thirty days immediately following.

In both cases, the promotion of the free days was substantially identical and relied on almost exactly the same websites and social media tools. Since both offerings were therefore more or less the same, I really have no idea if the offering of a title for free through KDP Select has become less effective as a promotional tool since last spring. Perhaps the second title I offered was merely less appealing to the sort of audience that follows the offering of free books on Amazon than was my title back in the spring.

Joanna Penn
Action-Adventure Thriller Author & popular publishing industry blogger
Author's Blog: The Creative Penn
Website: J. F. Penn, Ancient Mystery, Modern Thrill
Twitter: @thecreativepenn

I have used KDP Select for my non-fiction book 'How to love your job or find a new one' and I loved the fact I could get the book into so many hands so fast. I am passionate about spreading the word about that book, as it changed my life, so giving it away for free was always about getting more readers.

For my fiction, I did try it and my full report is here:

Perhaps you could use some quotes from that? It also contains info on my paid promotion.

Overall, for my fiction, I prefer a paid promo, as I end up making more money and also get more targeted buyers. I no longer have my fiction in KDP Select, although I will use it strategically for other things e.g. more non-fiction.

Maree Ward-Russell
YA Mystery & Thriller Author
Author's Blog: M.W. Russell Author
Website: M.W. Russell Author
Twitter: @mibbymw

My only experience has been with KDP direct on Amazon which I thought I would trial. My goal was to get myself ‘out there’ in terms of people getting to know me. At first it went well with 2000 downloads in the first 2 days. Problem is if you give that many copies away free, there is no incentive to buy and I found I had a slump in sales straight after. I have decided to take the slow and steady approach in the future and will be unlikely to use KDP again. I know however others have had very positive results so this may only be my experience.

Cheryl Shireman
Fiction Novels, Non-Fiction and Children's Books plus the founder of the'Indie Chicks' writing group
Author's Blog: Cooper Moon - The Series
Website: Cheryl Shireman
Twitter: @cherylshireman
E-Mail: Contact Form on her Site

Since Select has made it possible to give away books for free on Amazon, there have been a lot of writers who have offered their books to readers for free. It can be a good way to attract short-term attention to your novel, but I am not sure what long-term effect giving away free copies will have on sales. I think it is too soon to tell right now. I just did a giveaway of the first book in the Cooper Moon series - Cooper Moon: The Calling. Almost 1500 readers grabbed a free copy. If those readers love the book and continue on to the next book in the series, that would be wonderful. Any way you look at it, a lot of readers were exposed to the series, and that is always a good thing. Like any promotional effort, going free can have mixed results. Earlier in the year I did a free run for another book and over 5000 people downloaded that book. There are two ways to look at that - I just "lost" the price of 5000 sales, or I gained 5000 readers. I prefer the latter!

Emily Tippetts
YA Romance Author
Author's Blog: Emily Mah
Website: E. M. Tippetts
Twitter: @EMTippetts

I've given books away for free through Amazon's KDP Select program. The first time I did this was March 1 of this year with Someone Else's Fairytale, and the book shot up to 13th overall in one day. I then ended the giveaway and the book had a strong sales surge and climbed to 194th overall. The surge then subsided to about 20 copies a day (about 3,000th on the site, it's a book that's always had pretty reliable sales). When I did another free promo with some friends for an anthology in May, we again surged up to #1 in our subcategory, but there was no sales bump. Word soon got out that Amazon had changed their promotion algorithms, and I choose to assume this is fair. The free promos probably allowed a lot of self published books to be recommended to people who in turn were dissatisfied with the quality.

My last free promotion I did in September with my YA book, Castles on the Sand. I read up on the strategy and the new wisdom was, make your giveaway last longer. I started with two days and if the book moved a lot of copies and climbed the rankings, I would extend the giveaway. Well, Amazon's ranking system broke the day the giveaway started, so I let it run for the two days, sure that this would be the end, as one of the main drivers of a giveaway is people seeing the book high in the rankings. This is how you net people who don't read the websites that advertise free books. Imagine my shock when, ten minutes before the time would have run out, the rankings mechanism began to work again and the book was 88th overall on the site. I extended the giveaway twice more, so that it ended up running for 5 days, and got as high as the top 40 on the site. For about three weeks I had a good sales bump - nothing extreme. I never climbed past 8,000 on the site, but it was noticeable.

With every giveaway, I've advertised on Kindle Boards, Kindle Nation Daily, Digital Book Today, and countless other sites that promote free books. It isn't enough to make the book free, you have to get the word out to people who are looking.

Jade Varden
Crime and Horror Author
Author's Blog: The official blog for Jade Varden, author of the Deck of Lies series.
Twitter: @JadeVarden

I’ve participated in many giveaways. My books have been given away as part of a Smashwords-wide event, on several book blog giveaways, and even through my own promotional giveaways. I’ve had good results in that I managed to give books away, but I did not gain a ton of new reviews because of these giveaways. My main goal was to share my books, so that mission was accomplished. I didn’t really face any obstacles. I maintain communication with the book bloggers and with the winners as needed, and try to respond quickly, and everything’s always gone smoothly.


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  1. James, as a reader, I often find myself declining to download a free book if I read an excerpt and think I might be interested in reading the entire book. That's because I want to buy the book and give the author credit for a "real" sale. I'm not in the 1%, but most ebooks, which are all I read anymore, cost money I can spend without fear of falling into bankruptcy. Is this a silly way of looking at giveaways? I always think it's kind of pointless (I'll leave out the word "cheap") to load up my Kindle with books, free or not, I might never attempt to read.

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