Giving it away for free

Mapping The Story: Fictional cartography

Pet Peeves: Using The Correct Word

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Paul Whybrow

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Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I published my first ebook in the autumn of 2013, and have uploaded forty-three short stories, novellas and volumes of poetry and song lyrics since. I initially used Smashwords, but later went onto Amazon.
Sales were slow, and as I wrote my first novel through the course of 2014, I looked for ways of gaining more attention for myself and my books.

I experimented with changing the covers of my ebooks, paying attention to the colours of them and having a readily discernible image that would be recognisable when shrunk down to tile/thumbnail size on a hand-held device. All that I really learned from that, was that readers seemed to like bright colours, titles that were in the form of a question and covers with an animal on them.

I also experimented with pricing, trying to encourage readers with a low 99c for the shorter works, while hoping that they'd pay more for the novellas. I was doing a lot more on establishing a presence on the social media, subtly announcing that my new novel was on the way. I initially intended to publish The Perfect Murderer for the sales opportunity of Christmas, 2014. To raise awareness of my existing books, I decided to try giving them away for free in the run-up to the festivities, hoping to foster some loyalty.

Unsurprisingly, downloads increased, which I thought was encouraging, as at least some of the readers might remember me. Although my novel appeared to be finished, I knew that more editing would be beneficial, so I delayed self-publishing it - and am I thankful that I did, as I and my beta-reader have since found a host of things that needed correcting or clarifying.

Although I wasn't earning anything from it, I was getting a secret thrill from so many people downloading my books, so I decided to let the free offer run for a while. In the last seven months, about 7,000 readers have taken my titles, with 1,200 going for a collection of erotic verse. I'm not big-headed about this, for I know that folk like free stuff - my sales drive is similar to handing out samples of food in supermarket aisles.

I have no way of knowing if people will recall my name, and if they liked my writing will be happy to pay for anything else that I publish. That's an intangible thing, which reminds me of the old publicist's saying about how half of the money that we spend on advertising is wasted, but we don't know which half.

I'm aware of some of the arguments for and against giving writing away for free. Not the least of which concerns is how free content denies all of the thousands of hours of work that went into creating a story. If some books are free, why pay for others? I came across this article today, which though it's being used as a writing prompt, raises discussion upon the reasons for giving away your work :

https://medium.com/medium-writing-prompts/why-give-away-your-work-for-free-5ed4513d5fa8

Have any Colonists experimented with free offers? Did you perceive any benefits? Were there any disadvantages?
 
I have three short stories out on Smashwords right now. When I first put them up, I had them for $.99, hoping to make just a little bit of money because I put hard work into them. However, several months went by and I had something like 8 sales, so I, too, did free giveaways.

But then I realized that the whole point of me putting my short stories out there was to increase awareness for my own name so that, when I finally publish a book, maybe someone will recognize my name and purchase it. Well no one was reading my stuff, so I put it up for free. Boy, did the downloads start flooding in (comparatively at least). 40 downloads in the first month or two. I've decided to keep mine for free unless an agent tells me otherwise. This way it increases my publicity (and doesn't force me to use the more expensive tax form for $5, UGH.)

I'm curious, though: was ditching Smashwords for Amazon much more productive? I'm wary of giving Amazon exclusivity through Kindle Select (because they're fighting with the publishing industry all the time), but I've heard that sales are significantly better through Kindle Select.
 
I have a full MS that I produced on my blog in chapter-by-chapter instalments. Once the book was finished, I transferred it to a multi-user blog and let it rot there for several years. I used to be all about "Creating quality, ad-free content, free from charge for everyone to enjoy", but I've since abandoned that idea. I never invested time and effort into publicity so nobody ever knew it was there.

I think free samples are very much the way to go in the modern are, since it's all about getting an actively engaged readership and plenty of reviews. But I've come to think providing free content without investing the time / effort / resources into letting people know it's there is just a recipe for obscurity - no matter how good the product might be.

With so many readers it sounds like you're doing something right! Could you share your experiences for what worked in bringing moths to the flame?
 
I have three short stories out on Smashwords right now. When I first put them up, I had them for $.99, hoping to make just a little bit of money because I put hard work into them. However, several months went by and I had something like 8 sales, so I, too, did free giveaways.

But then I realized that the whole point of me putting my short stories out there was to increase awareness for my own name so that, when I finally publish a book, maybe someone will recognize my name and purchase it. Well no one was reading my stuff, so I put it up for free. Boy, did the downloads start flooding in (comparatively at least). 40 downloads in the first month or two. I've decided to keep mine for free unless an agent tells me otherwise. This way it increases my publicity (and doesn't force me to use the more expensive tax form for $5, UGH.)

I'm curious, though: was ditching Smashwords for Amazon much more productive? I'm wary of giving Amazon exclusivity through Kindle Select (because they're fighting with the publishing industry all the time), but I've heard that sales are significantly better through Kindle Select.

I didn't take my work off Smashwords, and it's still on there, as well as Amazon and some other small sales sites. I'm fond of Smashwords and founder Mark Coker, for it's how I learned about e-publishing, marketing, formatting and much else. As a distribution hub for putting one's work on book-sellers' sites Smashwords is peerless. As a sales venue though, it's a bit like a small neighbourhood store - at least compared to the Walmart proportions of Amazon.
After about a year of e-publishing, I uploaded my books to Amazon. I'm a bolshy bastard and don't like being bossed around, so I resisted the temptations and supposed advantages of their Kindle Select publishing programme, opting for the lower rate of commission by pricing my books cheaply.
In looking for ways to raise my profile as a writer, I found something about forcing Amazon to price-match other book traders. The theory goes that if your books are free on Amazon you'll get mucho downloads, which will make your name appear on their best-selling authors chart. This popularity can be used as a springboard to launching your new book. It was what I intended to do with my novel at that time, rushing to get it out for Christmas.
I rather shot myself in the foot at this juncture, for I was in the process of converting my books from showing my pen name of Augustus Devilheart to the real me, Paul Whybrow. This might have caused some confusion with readers, and it certainly took me a chunk of time to complete. I was a little puzzled that Amazon hadn't price-matched the fresh books to be free after several weeks, for I'd asked several friends to contact them with the request. Then I read that Amazon isn't obligated to price-match, and can be downright sniffy about doing so. What happened instead, was that they reduced the price of all of my books to 99c. This didn't make a lot of difference to sales, but for some reason my books started to be borrowed from their library service, which I'd opted into with not much happening before.
Some authors do spectacularly well with Kindle Select, but as I've said in another post, they always have a prominent social media presence already in place. Many spend a lot on advertising too, which also helps Amazon to get behind them as God (Jeff Bezos) helps those who help themselves. J.A. Konrath is a noted success. His forthright views on publishing are amusing to read and he certainly doesn't pull his punches :
http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/
It's worth remembering though, that any pond has big fish in it - this is something that Konrath ignores, sounding off about e-publishing as if we can all become millionaires from it. Just as J.K. Rowling (and now Harper Lee) has skewed things with traditional book sales, making it tougher for the rest of us, so there's a few ebook writers who hog the limelight. It makes me think of the phrase if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.
 
I didn't take my work off Smashwords, and it's still on there, as well as Amazon and some other small sales sites. I'm fond of Smashwords and founder Mark Coker, for it's how I learned about e-publishing, marketing, formatting and much else. As a distribution hub for putting one's work on book-sellers' sites Smashwords is peerless. As a sales venue though, it's a bit like a small neighbourhood store - at least compared to the Walmart proportions of Amazon.
After about a year of e-publishing, I uploaded my books to Amazon. I'm a bolshy bastard and don't like being bossed around, so I resisted the temptations and supposed advantages of their Kindle Select publishing programme, opting for the lower rate of commission by pricing my books cheaply.
In looking for ways to raise my profile as a writer, I found something about forcing Amazon to price-match other book traders. The theory goes that if your books are free on Amazon you'll get mucho downloads, which will make your name appear on their best-selling authors chart. This popularity can be used as a springboard to launching your new book. It was what I intended to do with my novel at that time, rushing to get it out for Christmas.
I rather shot myself in the foot at this juncture, for I was in the process of converting my books from showing my pen name of Augustus Devilheart to the real me, Paul Whybrow. This might have caused some confusion with readers, and it certainly took me a chunk of time to complete. I was a little puzzled that Amazon hadn't price-matched the fresh books to be free after several weeks, for I'd asked several friends to contact them with the request. Then I read that Amazon isn't obligated to price-match, and can be downright sniffy about doing so. What happened instead, was that they reduced the price of all of my books to 99c. This didn't make a lot of difference to sales, but for some reason my books started to be borrowed from their library service, which I'd opted into with not much happening before.
Some authors do spectacularly well with Kindle Select, but as I've said in another post, they always have a prominent social media presence already in place. Many spend a lot on advertising too, which also helps Amazon to get behind them as God (Jeff Bezos) helps those who help themselves. J.A. Konrath is a noted success. His forthright views on publishing are amusing to read and he certainly doesn't pull his punches :
http://jakonrath.blogspot.co.uk/
It's worth remembering though, that any pond has big fish in it - this is something that Konrath ignores, sounding off about e-publishing as if we can all become millionaires from it. Just as J.K. Rowling (and now Harper Lee) has skewed things with traditional book sales, making it tougher for the rest of us, so there's a few ebook writers who hog the limelight. It makes me think of the phrase if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Say no more. I love Smashwords, and Coker is where I learned my formatting skills as well. Smashwords is even attempting to work with Amazon, so I'll just keep my stuff for free and hold out on Amazon until then.
 
My feeling is if you're going to write something and publish it either on your own or with a publisher, you should get paid for it. The *&^^%$##%^&& pirates get enough of my books for free. I don't give them away intentionally.
 
My feeling is if you're going to write something and publish it either on your own or with a publisher, you should get paid for it. The *&^^%$##%^&& pirates get enough of my books for free. I don't give them away intentionally.

True, but you also limit your audience if it's priced. For people that are looking to build a following, putting some things out there for free isn't necessarily a bad thing. The $5 I earned last year didn't outweigh the 100 or so downloads I've had so far this year.
 
True, but you also limit your audience if it's priced. For people that are looking to build a following, putting some things out there for free isn't necessarily a bad thing. The $5 I earned last year didn't outweigh the 100 or so downloads I've had so far this year.
I don't agree that it limits the audience. There's no guarantee that people who download a free copy will pick up the rest of the books by that author at retail. Free is free and people will download it simply because it is free.

It's a moot point for me anyway because my publishers set the price, and they haven't set any of them at FREE yet. LOL!!
 
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Mapping The Story: Fictional cartography

Pet Peeves: Using The Correct Word

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