Let me start out with a little bit of honesty.
As much as we might not like to admit it, the indie author has low odds of being successful. It is an unavoidable fact that most indie authors only ever sell a handful of books, and most often only to family and friends. Breaking past that point and reaching a wider audience is the dream we all share, but we all know how hard it can be.
We have a limited number of tools in our toolboxes for achieving that aim. And there comes a time when shouting into the void of Twitter or Facebook becomes a little pointless. There is a hashtag floating around on Twitter that I'm growing to love #IndieBooksBeSeen, because after all, the best written book is irrelevant if no one knows it exists. Spreading the word and sharing the love amongst the indie crowd is essential. A big part of why this blog was created in the first place. But even all that shared love isn't enough. We have to find ways to get our books into people's hands.
Free promotions, putting the book for free for a limited time, is one of the tools we have, and it's one that sparks a bit of debate amongst the indie crowd.
A lot of people will tell you that giving your book away for free will only devalue it. A bit like when your Mum told you no one would buy the cow if you gave the milk away for free. Most people who are against free promotions will tell you that the people who download free books will never buy your book, in fact they probably won't even read it.
I'm not going to argue with them. They may well be completely right. But I think that there is more to free promotions than the people who actually download your book for free. It's what those downloads can do for your rankings. It's what it can mean in the long run once your book goes back on sale.
I decided last month that I was going to give the free promotion thing another try. I'd done it before and received some extra reviews from it, so it hadn't been a complete waste, but this time I was going to do it properly. Which included a little paid advertising. Not much, just a $15 outlay for being included in an e-reader newsletter. Not enough to break the bank, but enough to test the waters.
I'm now going to give you actual numbers and figures. My sales prior to this were low. Not embarrassingly low (after all, see above about the success rates of indie authors) but low enough that the results are pretty obvious.
Prior to the free promotion days my sales ranking was somewhere around the #500,000 mark. Yup. That low. I would say I made at most 2 sales a week. (note that as I get paid almost as much for borrows as sales on the KU scheme I do count them as a sale). Not terrible considering The Last Knight has been out for over a year and a half, but not brilliant by any means.
The free promotion days ran from the 30th Jan to the 1st Feb, with the paid advertising falling on the 31st. Right in the middle.
The first day of free downloads was OK - but nothing more than that. 159 copies.
The second day the advertising kicked in, and things changed.
By the time the day ended I had over 2,300 copies downloaded.
The next day the downloads continued, but not at the same rate, another 800+ copies however.
But the big thing for me was not how many were downloaded, but what it did for my ranking.
At it's highest point I reached #72 in the free rankings. I'd started at around #18,000 the previous day.
I know what you're thinking though. All of this is irrelevant in a way, because I'm not getting paid for those copies and the people who downloaded them probably won't read them.
But you see, those free copies do matter. Because if I take away the free copies on the sales graph, I get this:
Now, it may not seem like much - but when you look at the whole of January, you can see what a difference has been made. Even taking the borrows (which I do tend to count as I mentioned above) I had six books sold in January. (Which was up on last years sales of...zero) But on the day the free promo starts the sales jump up. And they've gone up since this graph was taken. But even just with what is visible here, in 4 days I had 13 sales. Double what I'd had for the whole month. To me that is a huge increase.
And it in turn has had a massive impact on my rankings now I'm back in the paid charts.
Remember up top where I told you my ranking before this was somewhere around #500,000?
Here's my little indie book ranked up there with a traditionally published book. (Yes I am just a little pleased with that!).
The fact is though, rankings matter. Success breeds success. It's a well known fact. Those free downloads, and the subsequent sales have boosted me up the rankings, which will in turn bring more sales.
And this is where the waiting game comes in. I plan on doing a second post in about a week - to see if any of this has sustained itself. Then I might be able to actually answer the question this post poses.
But until then I'd love to hear what others make of these numbers. Do free promotions work? Do you think success (even if somewhat artificially created) can only breed further success (or sales?).
To be continued...