How free is working for me! 24

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 -

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.