Ask your average Indie author what the hardest part of the job is, and I suspect most will tell you 'marketing'. Do you see my hand up? Quite early in the self-publishing rush some entrepreneurial types recognised that money was to be made by providing services for independent authors. People hung up their shingles as editors, cover designers, reviewers, formatters, organisers of blog tours and purveyors of advertising opportunities.
I could come up with a list. I'm sure we all could. But for this post I just want to talk about sites which advertise promotion for free or discounted books. I've come across a few. The idea is to offer a free book or heavily discounted book – the first in a series is good – with the intention of appearing on some of Amazon's top 100 lists. That way, you get visibility and people hopefully buy your later books, based on the one you gave away for free. It's a well-known technique in marketing, referred to as a “loss leader”.
The trick is telling the world the deal is available “for a short time only”, or as perma-free. Amazon's five free days in Kindle Select is one technique. But you're locked into Amazon, and you still have to tell the world your book's up there, available for FREE.
So what options are out there, and (more importantly) do they work? Let's look at a few subscriber services – sites that produce targeted neswletters telling readers about new 'deals'.
Bookbub is one of the best known. It's also very expensive. A listing for a free offer on Bookbub in the science fiction category is $200. Bookbub is very fussy about the books it takes, going to some trouble to match the books they offer to their clientele. I've not been able to get any of my books into Bookbub, but anecdotal evidence from my circle of friends indicates results can be anywhere from okay to phenomenal. It seems to me that Bookbub works very well if you're already doing very well. In my case, I'd have to sell a LOT of the subsequent books in a series to get a return on investment on $200.
EreaderNewsToday (ENT) The site does try to select for quality, but not to the Bookbub extent. And at $15 for an SF book the price is much more manageable. I've used ENT for my own book, and also for a box set, "Sing a Song of the Stars". More on ENT below.
The Fussy Librarian offers places in its newsletter based on number of reviews and overall rating (see the link for the details). At present, cost for a science fiction book is $6. I suppose it's as good a way as any of judging quality, and I can't offer a better alternative, but it means writers of great books who haven't been able to attract reviews can't advertise on this service. I've run ads a few times on Fussy, and saw no change to my sales graph.
BookScream is still in Beta and currently offers free spots in its lists. I paid $5 for the featured author spot, where I could list up to six books. One was my perma-free, The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy. After the time, I received a long 'analysis' of results, clearly produced from a boilerplate template. However impressive the 'analysis' was, (and in my opinion it simply produced some dubious statistics and a few platitudes) my promotion at Book Scream produced no visible change to my sales.
BookGorilla This service requires books to have at least 5 reviews with an overall rating of 4+, although exceptions can be made as explained in the site's T&C. Price for an SF book is $50. We used this site for the boxed set Sing a Song of the Stars. As a result the collection appeared in several top 100 lists.
The cynical part of me (it's quite large) says the downloads can be done using fake accounts. Which means only a fraction of the downloads you get will actually be real readers who read the book. But going on the results I got with eReader News Today (see below), the book might well make it onto Amazon's top 100, and that's a powerful place to be.
Let me show you what happened when I made The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy perma-free.
I have found that I make more sales on Amazon US than anywhere else, by a very long way – well over 90%. So what I’m showing here is only Amazon US, although the book is available at most large sites.
I made the book free at all outlets except Amazon (where you can’t offer a free book – I set it to $0.99) on 18 January 2015. I did not advertise, beyond one Twitter post. The graph below shows what happened after Amazon price matched.
The first peak was simply from being in Amazon’s free books section. Then the initial excitement died away. The second peak is as a result of buying a US$15 ad on eReader News Today. The book raced up the Amazon lists and was soon #1 free in store for Galactic Empires and #1 Space Opera and #1 Romance Science Fiction. The big goal is top 100 free in store. It didn’t quite get there, but it reached 110 which is pretty good for a novel in a niche market like SF romance. To date, there have been over 4,000 downloads, and the number of units moved has tailed off over time.
Of course, we all know free downloads don’t necessarily mean readers, let alone fans. Many a free book languishes on a reading device, ignored and forgotten. But some people certainly did read the book. I’ve seen a substantial (in relative terms) increase in sales of the second Iron Admiral book – in fact all three titles in the series.
I can see value in having a perma-free first of series. And I can see value in advertising. BUT – consider return on investment. In my experience (and I can only speak for myself) the only program I've done which really worked for me was eReader News Today.
I'd love to know where you might have found success – or not, as the case may be.