Self-Publishing Sunday: Early Impressions of My Free Run

selfpub_sundaysFree is a strategy talked about by indie authors all the time. There are some who hate it, and some who love it. Some are opposed to free, suggesting it devalues the author’s work. Having come from a journalism background and having been offered free stuff on multiple occasions, I’m not a believer in that. The same publishers/authors who claim free devalues work give out their work for free all the time. They’ve just decided to do calculated free –send free stuff to reviewers and perceived influencers (bloggers, journalists, etc.). The make-it-free-for-everyone strategy presumes everyone can be an influencer (whether they blog or not) and everyone can have a chance to sample the work.

The free strategy works best if you have something for those who like your work to buy afterwards. So, having heard that series are great for free, and having toyed with the idea for the last six months,  I decided to make Life First free at the beginning of this year. On Jan. 8, Amazon, price-matched the book, making it free.

It’s been just over two months since I made my book free, so I thought I’d check in with early impressions. So far, I think it’s a sound strategy. In the two months Life First, has been free, I’ve sold more copies of Third Life: Taken than I sold in all of last year. Now, admittedly, I wasn’t selling tons last year, and I’ve never done a promo for that book, figuring readers would be unlikely to start with the third in a series. However, I have been pleasantly surprised that the trickle of sales so far has added up.  I’m close to matching the total sales numbers last year for Second Life, as well (I need 4 more sales).

While free is working better for me than non-free was,  it is certainly no panacea. And if you want a one hundred percent honest assessment, I don’t think I’m doing great compared to those who excel at free.  I’ll explain why. First, I’ve heard free should net you between a 10 and 20 percent sell-through rate to your other books. I’m not getting anywhere near that yet.  However, I’m only two months into this, and I’ve heard that you really want to see where you stand at the six month mark. Why? Because free is a numbers game. Most people who download free books never read them. And some let them linger on their ereaders for months before picking them up. So, you’ve got to give away a ton of books. And, unfortunately, I’m not there yet.

With the ones I’ve given away, there are lots of people who haven’t cracked the e-cover.  My goal is to try  to get a steady giveaway rate, and see what happens when I get to the backstop of people who discover my book on the Kindle along with the people who read the book fairly soon after downloading it.

And, of course, that takes time. It also takes numbers, which I’m still trying to figure out how to get on a steady basis. I’ve posted on sites that are free to do promo and gotten some good download numbers, but it’s produced uneven numbers that aren’t super high. I haven’t yet done a paid promo with Life First. So, I’m going to schedule some ads for next month and see if I can get a sustained boost in giveaways, which will offer some trickle-down sales for the second and third books in the series. While I’m not perfect at this free thing, I’m very happy with how it’s going so far.

So what do you think of Free as a strategy? Yay, maybe, or never?

About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at http://rjcrayton.com/subscribe.
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9 Responses to Self-Publishing Sunday: Early Impressions of My Free Run

  1. I lean towards the never free option. However, you could do a significant promo of the book, along with a teaser chapter or a few key paragraphs, and then offer it for free during a limited period. This approach might work for first-time authors.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Well, I used to not be keen on free, but I’ve come around on that. Free is a good way to get your story out there, at least if it’s going to lead to actual sales (which happens in a series). I think free for a person’s only title doesn’t do a whole lot of good, as the person doesn’t have another book to spend their money on if they liked the free sample.

  2. DV Berkom says:

    I’ll do the same, Yvonne. The more, the merrier.

    In my experience, free works to boost discoverability as well as sales of the rest of the series. I set Serial Date for free last year for a few months, intending to keep it permafree, had an uber successful BookBub ad, but then decided against keeping it free afterwards. Since the book is different in tone (way different–it tends toward satire) than the rest of the series, I’m not convinced it’s the best gateway into the rest. I won’t deny that it goosed sales, though. Good luck, and keep us posted, RJ 🙂

  3. I’m still working on getting amazon to make my first book free. Sigh.

    • RJ Crayton says:

      Yeah, the price matching part can be tricky because they don’t have to do it. I’m lucky they made it free without a lot of hassle. I have reported yours to Amazon as being available other places. I hope they match yours.

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