Wednesday, September 4, 2019

FREE! isn't free, but sometimes it's worth paying for

There was a point in the early days of indie publishing when the FREE! book promo was one of the go-to gimmicks. Tales spread among the author blogs about huge sales tails that would follow a 3-4 day run on the Kindle free lists. These surges would more than pay for the advertising required to spread the word back in the glory days of free in 2010-11.

I released my first novel, The Greatest Show on Dirt, in February 2012. I ran a free promo on Amazon, gave away 5,124 copies in April of that year, and saw a modest sales bump when it returned to regular price. Maybe I missed the window on free, maybe my book wasn't quite the right genre to ride the wave. I wasn't sold on free, but I wasn't ready to completely write it off, either.

In July 2015, I dabbled with free again with my second novel, Nine Bucks a Pound, also a baseball-themed story. According to my records, which I have no reason to doubt, I didn't spend anything on advertising this time. I moved 1,147 units. I sold a handful at regular price afterward. Again I was left wondering whether there was more potential for this. Certainly advertising would have helped generate interest, but would it have meant more paid sales after? And how many free downloads would be required to result in a bona fide sales spike? I could only guess.

The last time I bothered with a free promo was March 2018, when I ran one for my third novel, Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. This time I spent $78 on a total of three ads, and I saw 3,668 free downloads as a result. Sales spike? Not quite. Depends on your definition of spike. I was disappointed enough that I figured I wouldn't bother with free again.

Yet here I am, giving it one more try. This time I'm giving away The First World Problems of Jason Van Otterloo, my fourth novel, from Thursday (9/5) through Sunday (9/8). And I'll be honest, free is something of a desperate measure here. This book just hasn't seemed to catch on. It's received some decent reviews (and a couple of lame ones), but not enough overall.

I suspect part of this is my inability to really get a finger on the pulse of the YA genre. In some ways First World Problems is a YA outlier. It's set in the past. Its protagonist is an intellectual (in his own eyes, at least). It's written in emails. It's the kind of book I would have loved when I was a kid, but I'm not sure what the modern teen would think of it. I suspect it might resonate more with older readers, though the same could probably be said for much of what passes as YA.

This book needs an audience, and thus far I haven't been able to find it. So I'm willing to give the free Kindle thing another run. In my favor this time, this is the first of a series, with the second book, Dispatches from a Tourist Trap, also available (at regular price). Both are enrolled in KDP Select. If the promo generates much in the way of KDP reads, that could spill over into the second book and help get that one off the floor as well.

What are my expectations? I can't really say. And not because I'm being coy. I honestly don't know. I'd love to see somewhere between 5,000-10,000 downloads, at least a handful of nice reviews, some kind of sales tail once the promo ends, and enough KDP downloads to help recoup my expenses. Like Janet Livermore*, I may need to scale down my list of expectations over the coming days.

*Bonus points if you caught the Singles reference.

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