Monday, February 16, 2015

To Give-away or Not To Give-away: Why Bother with Freebies? ... by M. K. Theodoratus

First, thanks to Pat for asking about how my self-published estories were doing and inviting me to blog about my experience. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my confused thoughts.

Backstory: Last year, I had a contract for a YA fantasy book to be published in May 2014 and felt a need to build a platform to promote it. You know. The endless Twitter-Facebook-GoodReads-Google+-etc. thing.

The marketing gurus I read said “giving away books or deeply discounting them help you make sales for your other books.” Since I’m the type that likes to pull my weight, I spent a year building a platform that includes giving away some fantasy estories as well as trying to sell 99c estories set in the same world as the coming book.

Only the indie publisher imploded before the publication date.

Results of my marketing efforts? I now have five 99c estories self-published and four premafree ones compared to two of each when I started.

The questions: “Did I waste my time and money? Did I gain anything from the effort? Am I just another writer complaining: “Free books only draw freebie hounds.”

First, in spite of all my marketing efforts, you need to know I’m a pipsqueak writer. My “short reads” make a few sales each month compared to the hundreds I give away. My free Kindle short stories rank in the top 100 in a couple esoteric free short read science fiction and fantasy categories on Amazon. My paid stories sit around the 1,000,000 rankings. A best selling author, I’m not.

So, how has my experience measured up to what the gurus said?

1. “Freebies draw traffic to your other publications.”

 Not that I can tell or the process is as slow as molasses. But there may be something to the opinion. My sales have more than tripled. But, without doing the actual math, I’d say the ratio is roughly fifty freebies to one sale.

2. “The teaser effect: if you give away ebooks, you’ll generate interest in your print books.”

Unfortunately, I’m can’t test that proposition. I don’t have any print books, and my estories are either novelettes or short stories.

3. “If you get people to read some of your stories, you’ll build an audience that will buy your for sale ones.”

Again, I can’t get excited. Though once I did sell each of all my paid stories on Nook on the same day. Usually, my sales come in onsies and twosies.

Building an audience might very well be true. I haven’t promoted my latest free short estory—Hear That Damn Owl?—except showing the cover on my Twitter banners. I’ve been too busy writing to have time to post it on the various promo sites. Still, the story ranks in the top hundred in its freebie category.

4. “The Give-Away is one of the most important tools in a writer’s marketing arsenal to find new readers.”

Did try it when I first published a couple titles. It may be true, but I can’t see where the jumps in my free downloads were followed by a significant increase in sales for either the new book or the existing ones. The estories with give-aways do have more reviews, though.

From what I read on author blogs who complain about freebies not doing any good, I suspect there’s a bias set for people who decide to do the Kindle Select program [which I don’t] for six months. Select gives them a larger share of the sales but puts the muscle of Amazon’s promotion system behind them.

Sorry, I don’t have any definitive answers. I’m still working my way through the conundrum. Still the faint taste of “success” in my mouth has me thinking maybe I should take marketing more seriously. But it’s time consuming. I’d rather write.

I do know one thing. When I first started this marketing exercise, I was happy to sell five-six books a month. Now, I grumble when I don’t sell 30.

Guess that means my answer to doing freebies is a qualified “yes”.

Kay is giving away her four Andor stories on Smashwords which offers downloads in several formats. Just leave a comment on this post before Friday midnight February 20th (Mountain Time) to be eligible.


Hooked by comic books at an early age, M. K. Theodoratus’ fascination with fantasy solidified when she discovered the Oz books by L. Frank Baum with his strong female characters. She has traveled through many fantasy worlds since then. When she's not reading about other writers' worlds, she's creating her own.

Most of her stories are set in the Far Isles where she explores the political effects of genetic drift on a mixed elf-human population. Lately, Theodoratus has been setting her stories in an alternate world of Andor where demons stalk humankind.

You can learn more about Kay and her stories at her website and her excellent blog. She can also be found on almost all of the places writers and readers hang out, including Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and You Tube. When you go to her Amazon Author Page, you can see all her available stories and the beautiful cover art lined up next to a full bio. She also has a presence on Smashwords.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm not sure free works anymore unless you are already established. Discounted does though. The sale my publisher ran on one of my titles last year resulted in a huge explosion of sales.

nashvillecats2 said...

most interesting to read, I agree with Alex one has to be an established author, but good luck all the same.

Anonymous said...

All very interesting. Writers I think are the most tenacious of species. We simply love to write, and we all want an appreciative audience.

Jemi Fraser said...

There is always so much to consider - and the advice changes depending on timing, genre, and so much more! Good luck with the stories! :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I've heard free doesn't work as well as it used to. Thanks for sharing so honestly abut what worked and how it did.

E.J. Wesley said...

Love Kay, and loved reading about her experience here. I think the most valuable thing she has done is put herself out there on a consistent basis. Furthermore, you're garnering the all important "experience".

While I agree with previous comments, free doesn't quite work as well as it used to, we have to be very cautious about trying to follow the leader in the indie world. There is no one shoe, as badly as we want there to be one (and as badly as some want you to believe there is one). Try lots of things. You never know where YOUR audience is lurking.

There's a certain multi-$$$$ book franchise making the rounds as a sexy movie lately that originated as free fan fiction. She found her fanbase, publishers noticed, and magic happened.

I do not believe free downloads are worthless. I also don't believe they're a magic bullet for success. What definitely does work is to keep writing and getting it front of readers.

There's no hope of growing if it doesn't exist.

Keep hammering, Kay! (Being a 'little guy' as well, this really spoke to me. :) And it's great to see you here on Pat's blog. :-)

M. K. Theodoratus said...

Boy, thanks all for commenting. I agree with almost everything you guys said as it all comes under the "qualified yes". A lot depends on what your goals are.

Mine? I'm just happy my stats showed some improvement, and I get regular deposits into my checking account.

I self-published my first two estories [Far Isles Half-Elven ones] in 2011 on Smashwords while I was still submitting to magazines. The stories are still getting 50-75 downloads each a month without any publicity.

Most of my "Twitter promo bombs" concentrate on my Andor series. So, I'd say people will try a different kind of story if they don't have to pay for it, though most of my stories are up for sale.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I have tried the KS version - just for 5 days every three months, and I don't think that version of free works. However, I have noticed a slight bump in sales since I put a few short stories out for free. Even though they don't have a direct tie-in with my novels, I think a few people are willing to "try" me out as an author that way. I'm planning on writing a "prequel" short story to my Trilogy before the last book comes out in the fall . . . I'll see how it goes. For now, the vote is still out for me, too. I haven't had as big of a sales bump as you have.

M. K. Theodoratus said...

Tyrean, good luck.

You seemed to have summed up what I'm doing better than I did.

Eileen Goudge said...

Much of the advice about what works and what doesn't is like stock tips from Money magazine: by the time you're reading it, chances are it's old news. Or a snapshot from 6 months ago, which is old in the digital world. By the time I got around to trying all those "sure-fire" tips, I was late to the party Sigh. I agree with Alex, however. Discounting works. Especially with Amazon promotions. I have no doubt freebies work, too. Glad it's working for you, M.K. Thanks for sharing you experience.