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How free is working for me!

December 6, 2011

On June 26th, my first self-published book (a novella), ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE & SEDUCTION went live on B&N and Amazon. I suffered all kinds of  nervousness about its release. Would readers buy it? Would they like it enough to read the prior two books in the series. More importantly, would their interest be peaked in the next book in the series, AN HEIR OF DECEPTION, of which I’d included the first three chapters at the end of the novella? I had no idea but I cross my fingers and prayed.

Fast forward to the end of September, my novella has sold a modest amount of books–approx. 3300 copies. Amazon and B&N are completely swamped with self-published books, both front list books and reissued books. Ninety-nine ($.99) books seemed to dominate Amazon charts. More and more, it’s getting harder and harder for authors to compete for readers’ dollars with so many books and so many, many cheap books.

The sad fact is, no author wants to sell their work for $.99. Most authors do so in an effort to compete, in the hope of selling enough to land the book on a list. Being on a list means more visibility. More visibility means–hopefully–more sales. More sales, of course, means more readers reading your work and that’s what every author wants. The ultimate would be that a good portion of these readers like your work enough to buy you again.

So with all of this motivating me, I decided I try to reach more readers in a different way. Instead of charging money for my 30k novella, I would give it away free for 2 weeks but just in the Apple iBookstore. At that time, the novella was already in the iBookstore through Smashwords for $.99 but it was only selling a couple copies a day. I really didn’t think I had anything to lose. I then opened an account with Apple myself, took it down from being distributed to the iBookstore through Smashwords and put it up myself. This way, I would get a daily download count.

On October 9th, ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE & SEDUCTION went free in the iBookstore. The chart below shows what happened to A TASTE OF DESIRE (released Jan 2011 from Kensington).

As you can see from the graph, A TASTE OF DESIRE didn’t do too bad when it went up in the iBookstore January 5th. It spent a fair bit of time in the Top 100 Historical Romances and then it fell completely off around the summer. But on October 10th, it jumped back on the Top #100 Historical Romance list went as high as 7 ( It’s currently #6 in Historical Romance and #31 in Romance). As you can see from the chart, since the novella went free, it’s sustained a ranking in the Top #100, unlike the period when it was first released, when it was popping on and off of that same list.

Unlike A TASTE OF DESIRE, SINFUL SURRENDER didn’t become available in the iBookstore until September 2011. Not sure why since it came out January 2010. I do know I emailed my former editor at Kensington in August to find out why it wasn’t available. Anyway, as you can see from the above graph, SINFUL SURRENDER had similar results once the novella went free. Two months later, it maintains excellent rankings and hasn’t yet fallen out of the Top #100 Romance.

Fast forward to November 1st. ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE & SEDUCTION goes free on Amazon and a day later goes free on Barnes & Noble. Here’s what happened to both Kensington books on Amazon. I’ll explain B&N results in a bit.

These graphs are pretty self-explanatory. It’s clear the effect of the free novella was almost immediate. Both books appeared on Amazon’s Top 100 Historical list and remained there for approximately one month. I find that Amazon is much more price sensitive, so it’s no surprise that SINFUL SURRENDER, priced at $2.99, this time around, sold better than A TASTE OF DESIRE ($4.49) and still maintains a better ranking.

Unfortunately, my free novella had no effect on my sales in B&N and here’s why: Barnes and Noble does not advertise their free ebooks. There is no link on their site and no list ranking Top Free eBooks as there is in the iBookstore and Amazon. Even if you search free eBooks and drill-down to Historical Romance, my book (and most free historical romance ebooks) is not listed on the page. There is a definite cause and effect in play here, and if readers can’t readily find my free novella on the site, they won’t be downloading it. This was the one fly in the ointment. I hope one day B&N will reconsider this and advertise their free ebooks.

# of Unique Visitors - www.BeverleyKendall.com

The above graph is the # of unique visitors to my personal website. You will see monthly spikes when I’m announcing a new contest but if you look at October onward, you’ll see a definite increases in new visitors. The traffic to my website has more than doubled (almost tripled) since my novella when free. A good 70% of visitors land on my site having searched for AN HEIR OF DECEPTION (Remember, the book whose first three chapters I included in the back of the novella).

Lastly, let’s talk numbers (the ones I think I know). Prior to the novella going free, both of my Kensington books were selling approx 1-20 books a day combined on Amazon. At the peak of their resurgence, they were selling a combined approx 115 books a day (according to Theresa Ragan’s Amazon Ranking Chart).

To date, between Amazon US, Amazon UK and iBookstore, there have been 88,653 (iBookstore) + 47,857 (Amazon US) + 3,041 = 139,551 downloads of ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE & SEDUCTION.

Lessons Learned

1. Free works
2. Include an excerpt to other books at the back of your free book
3. Readers should be willing to pay money for the free book. In other words, don’t scrimp on anything: cover, editorial review, story.
4. It’s easier to promote a free book than a paid book.
5. Free book helps weed out readers who won’t like your paid work, which hopefully means less negative reviews of paid books.
6. Free works better with series (connecting books).
7. Authors don’t have to be slaves to cheap book pricing. If readers love your work, they will pay a fair price for your books. (Personally, fair to me is $4.99 for a full-length 90-100k book).

However, the biggest lesson I learned was if you’re going to include an excerpt of other books in your free ebook, make sure the book is available for purchase. I made this mistake by not having AN HEIR OF DECEPTION available and sorely regret that missed a great opportunity to sell that book now, when the interest is hot. Believe me, it’s a mistake I won’t ever make again.

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  1. I agree with everything you’ve said. Itunes is such an untapped market. My short story, Love Letters, has been free on Itunes for about a month now and it’s worked wonders. Truth was, at 99 cents it wasn’t making me much money anyway so it wasn’t too difficult of a decision to put it free. At the end of Love Letters is an excerpt for To Seduce an Earl, my 2.99 book. The sales of that book have completely shot up since I put out Love Letters. And I’m making a better profit on my 2.99 To Seduce an Earl than I would have been with Love Letters at 99 cents. Who knows what the future will hold. It seems like the publishing world is constantly changing so I try to keep an open mind. Only a month ago, 99 cents worked. Now it doesn’t seem to be working as well. So I’m just trying to keep an open mind and taking advantage for what works at the moment. And right now… the freebie as opposed to 99 cents is def. the way to go, imo.

    Amazon hasn’t caught ahold of my freebie and changed it, so I can’t compare sales there. And you’re right, Barnes and Noble seems to be more and more of a lost cause with self publishing/freebies. But I will def. be putting up more free short stories and in fact I’ll probably be putting up a free full length that I feel has run its course to help sales for the second book in the series. As I said, for now this works for me :) Who knows what will happen in the future.

  2. Wow Bev. That’s so cool. I check out iBooks first for the free book and see if they’re available for Kindle. If not, I usually download it on iBooks. I try to find most of the free e-books that I think my blog readers might be interested in and share it on my blog. I even share discounted reads. It’s time consuming scouring the sites but I love it because I get to find some great reads too.

  3. Hi Beverley, As a reader I think it very smart for authors to put their books especially the first one in a series for free. I have bought almost all the books in a series that I have got the first for free.. Even if the book is not in a series, if I like the authors work I will continue to buy their books. This happened with you, and many other authors that I was unaware of. You don’t have to leave the book for free indefinitely. On Facebook there is a page called Pixel of Ink and they advise its subscribers of the free books that are on amazon and Barnes and Noble on a daily basis. I think that if a reader likes a person work they will continue to pay for the books that, that person writes. I know I am looking forward to An Heir of Deception. Keep up the good work and congrats on all the sales of your books.

  4. I completely agree with everything that you said. I can’t tell you how many times I download a free book to try out an author or a series, only to find out that the “free” book was less than stellar which then makes me think that there is no reason to pay for the author’s other works. The free book should be more than just free, it should be the BEST representation of the stories that you write. Because if I like it, I am going to go right out and buy those other books. Without hesitation. Free books are a big temptation, but now I don’t even download every free book that looks interesting. I check out the author’s other books online first. What kind of reviews they have not only on Amazon (which is where I buy most of my books) but also on Goodreads. If the author doesn’t have good reviews on the books you have to pay for, I don’t bother with the freebie. Because even though it’s free, my time is valuable and I know there are other choices available that will be better reads. The free read should be the BEST you have to offer, not an afterthought, or a throw away, or a half hearted attempt that didn’t receive the same kind of attention as your other works.

    I am always surprised when authors, and even publishers, offer free novellas/short stories/books with authors that I already read, only to find that the freebies aren’t a good representation of the authors best work. I’m saddened by this because I KNOW from experience that these “teasers” are a missed opportunity and understand why they get worse reviews than the actual books you pay for. Instead of writing these short freebies (and it’s hard to have a great story in such few words) it would be much better to offer the full length book, or best book that the author wrote. With so many choices out there it’s no longer three strikes and you are out for a new to me author. It’s one strike and your out. And if the book you put up to bat is not the best you have to offer, then you will lose…not only my money, but my time, and my word of mouth to my fellow readers about books I feel are worth their time and money too.

    Thanks for sharing this and I am so happy for you that you found something that works for you and gets your books out to readers who will love them!

  5. Thank you for posting your data on the value of going free. It certainly gives me a lot to think about. Right now I’m running the first in my series for 99 cents directly on Amazon. It looks like I will have a contract for that series through a traditional publisher, but maybe on the next one I’ll put a book for free on itunes to see what happens. And thanks for the heads up on the excerpts in the back of the book–being for books available now. Congratulations and wishing you continued success.

  6. Beverley, I’m glad you’ve had success with your books. I can’t imagine how good it must feel.

  7. As a reader it’s always amazing and interesting to find what goes into the selling of books.

  8. Congratulations on the successful promotion. Have you tried contacting B&N and suggesting they find a way to promote free downloads?

  9. It seems that these days it’s every author for herself! You have got to be your own advertising exec and your decisions have certainly paid off for you.

  10. Yes FREE works, at least with me! I am an avid reader who tends to just have so much book money to spend, so I am only going to spend that money on authors known to me. If I don’t know an author, unless the books is getting rave reviews or is FREE, I am most likely not going to spend the money for a ‘maybe I’ll like it’. As you stated, there are hundreds of self-published books out there, that now I am finding myself spending more and more time reading these ‘FREE’ books and then buying everything the author has written when I find an author whose writing I like (Bev…you made the cut!) Now I find myself buying less and less of the big-named author’s books because I can have an ereader full of dozens of authors whose books are just as well written for a fraction of the cost. But this can be a double-edged sword for some authors who choose to present their ‘not the best’ work for free because if I didn’t like the book for FREE, I am not going to want to spend my dollars on something that may be just so-so.

  11. Thanks for posting your success story. The first book in my series (Easton Hearts) is now free on iBookstore.

  12. I appreciate you sharing this information with us. Knowing what an author goes through is helpful.

  13. Good information. I’ve purchased your books and novella. And, if it makes you feel better, this reader is chomping at the bit waiting for An Heir of Deception, which I will definitly be purchasing!

  14. I detest that B&N doesn’t have free ebook promotions! As a nook owner I go to Amazon and iBookstore to find what’s trending there and then look on B&N for it. I’d say at least 95% of the time the books are also free on B&N but you’re right, there is no way for readers to see those!

    Glad it’s all working out for you, Bev.

  15. Thank you for sharing this! It’s wonderful insight into how authors can market their works better.

    I think “free” worked for you because:
    a. The free novella was very good.
    b. Your stories are very good.

    There are a lot of free e-books being offered. (That’s just getting your foot in the door.) I think authors still have to remember that they need to produce quality stories if they want customers to stay interested.

    Congratulations again on the great download figures!

  16. WOW! 😀 Those charts are amazing. I agree with you, Bev. B&N needs to advertise better. You probably would’ve reached your 250,000 goal by now. FREE–who would have thought it possible. It truly shows how a new author could benefit. It was your books that lured me to your great website. I didn’t mind paying for your books. They were worth the money. Nice job on your research. Way to go Bev! :)

  17. Glad to hear about your success! And it’s good to see some actual stats on the issue, rather than guesswork.

  18. That is very interesting. I did not they gave you that much data.

  19. What interesting and happy news Bev! :) Thanks for sharing this info with us.
    Now even more people are becoming aware of your wonderful books!

  20. That looks like a lot of work, and something my husband would enjoy (he loves charts and graphs, yup he is an engineer). Glad to see your numbers jump, too bad the timing wasn’t there for An Heir of Deception. But hopefully all those people will see it when it comes out and remember your name as “that author that had a couple really great books not too long ago, I better check it out”.

  21. I have started and bought up so many series’ this year alone due to free novellas or making the first in a series free. I look at the top free romance list on Amazon daily and I have found so many good ones this way.

  22. My husband has been trying to talk me into an e-reader for a year now. Mostly to cut down on the number of books around the house. It would be nice to be able to take advantage of the free books. As you noted, it does help with sales of other books. I like to read all books in a series. If I read one and like it, then realize it is part of a series, I will make sure I get the earlier books and look for the next ones coming out. Since I like to wait to read a series until I have all the books, e-books would help with the stacks of books waiting to be read.
    The publishing world is a difficult place to be today, and you have to do what you can to get your books noticed and boost sales. Since I am looking at getting a Nook, I hope Barnes and Noble changes the way they list their books soon.

  23. I actually paid for ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE & SEDUCTION when first released through B&N for my nook color. Beverley is on my must read author list, so no matter the price I will purchase. I have the mass market of the first 2 books but have gone back to purchase the ebooks so I can keep the series together now that I read mainly from my e reader.

    I have taken advantage of free reads and have purchased the continuing series from the free reads. It is a great way to introduce us readers to authors that we may otherwise over look and it as you said if we like we will buy. I don’t get wrapped up in reviews on account I believe that they are personal preference of the person writing the review. I have read reviews by author’s suggesting a book, purchased the said suggested book and hated. So now if the book interest me I will purchase.

    Great Job Beverley, patiently waiting (or impatiently waiting) for your release of AN HEIR OF DECEPTION. It is a fantastic series.

  24. Thanks for sharing your experience, Bev. This is a great post.

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