Thursday, May 06, 2010

Is Free Profitable by author Dana Donovan

Ten years ago I finished my first book, "Attraction of Blood". Since then I have written another ten books, taking time between each to author the perfect query letter design to hook a literary agent into selling my work. Typically, after a hundred or so rejection letters, I convince myself that maybe this book doesn't have what it takes to go mainstream, and so I endeavor to write a better, more marketable novel that no agent in his right mind can pass up. Such has been the endless cycle of the last decade.

Naturally, amid all the writing and querying, I am also self promoting, self publishing and self marketing. For most of you, this is nothing new. That you are reading this now is likely because you are a member of VBT or some other writers group and by being here, you are presently engaged in this very practices.

So my topic today is more of a question, which I will pose after sharing this observation with you. It is something I have noticed this past year having participated in the monthly rotation of hosting and being hosted on the "Writers on the Move Virtual Book Tour." There seems to be two equally interesting facets to the typical format that participating members employ when featured on the tour.

First is the self promoting format. I love this type. Except for the newest members to the VBT community, I have stopped by all your blogs and met (I think) everyone in the group. The diversity amazes me. The wealth of talent assembled within this micro community inspires and encourages me to plow ahead whenever I feel deflated by the infinite dead ends I hit in my efforts to further a career still in-waiting. So to all of you I say thanks. Your good-fellowship is priceless and heart warming.

The second format that I see employed in these tours is the academic side. Though I love the self promoting facet, I especially appreciate the brass tacks, tactile, take it and run advice that some of you offer when your turn comes up in rotation. I am talking about the helpful hints and pointers offered as a means to further one's career, to move one beyond the rut that we all sometimes find ourselves in. Stephen Tremp does this well, so does Marvin Wilson, the Old Silly. Last week I hosted Mayra Calvani who also shared with us her tips on helping us dig out of our ruts by cultivating the right mood for the type of writing we are trying to express. Karen, Lea, Maggie; you too work the ropes expertly. Truth is that many of you thoughtfully share tips with us of things that have worked for you.

It is in that spirit that I attempt to share with you something that has recently worked for me in gaining exposure as an author, and by extension, sales of my books. My suspicion is that this may not, in fact, be news for some of you, but hopefully it will be for others.

What is this cool marketing tool? Perhaps not so surprisingly, it is the oldest marketing tool in business, used by corporations large and small, by emerging young enterprises, pushcart street vendors and even (though I don't condone it) by illegal drug dealers. I am talking about the Free Sample, the Buy-One-Get-One and the outright Free-No-Questions-Asked promotions.

Like many of you, I am self published and have listed electronic versions of my books on, among other places, Smashwords. I applaud their concept: read half free, buy the rest if you like it. It is not original. I know that. Frankly I have used that same marketing strategy on my on website for years. But I have recently taken that construct to another level. Instead of letting a prospective buyer read only some of the manuscript (book), I let them read all of it. Better still, I let them read a second one as well, absolutely free. The hook is the same. If they like it, they will buy more. What I have found, however, is that if they like an entire book (or two) they are far more likely to buy additional books from you than they are if given only half. Trust me on this. I have really followed this closely.

To be clear, again we are talking about ebooks only now. Naturally, print copies are out of the question. That said, I can tell you that sales of my ebooks on Smashwords have been fair, especially compared to e-versions at Lulu. In the first few months on Smashwords, where nine of my books are listed, I averaged one thousand sample downloads, resulting in six books actually sold. A little over a month ago I made available the first two books of my Detective Marcella Paranormal Mysteries series totally free. This resulted in a virtual flood of ebook downloads (nearly 8000 in six weeks), which translated into one hundred and seventy eight sold copies of my other books!

Of course, this does not work well if you only have one book, but it does if you have two or more, which many of you have. Now I know that no author relishes giving away her hard work for free, but the exposure to a mass audience is something I am willing to compromise on. The sales this month of my ebooks on Smashwords by far eclipses the sale of those same books on Lulu in the past ten years. Does that mean it is right for you? Maybe not, but I thought I would share my thoughts on the matter just the same.

So now my question. What practice do you employ to bolster sales of your books, and how well is it working?

Dana E. Donovan,
author of the Detective Marcella Paranormal Mysteries series
Resurrection, Abandoned, Skinny and more.

free downloads>


Dana Donovan said...

Thank you,Elysabeth, for hosting me today. And thanks in advance to all of you who stopped by. I will be at work all day, but will check in this evening to acknowledge you again and to answer any questions you might have. I look forward to seeing how some of you answer the question about what works for you.

Nancy Famolari said...

Very interesting article, Dana. I've heard that free does work. Looks like you're doing something right!

madcapmaggie said...

Dana, Interesting article. Thanks for the food for thought.

Margaret Fieland

DarcĂ­a said...

Great article, Dana. I agree that free does often work. I currently have five published novels. A few months ago, I gave my first one away for a limited time on Smashwords (as an e-book download). Since then, sales in my other books have increased. And it didn't cost me a thing!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I've been suggesting FREE (judiciously used) for a long time, Dana. It isn't a new concept. Chris Anderson wrote a book called FREE: The Future of a Radical Price in which he outlines the history of free which goes back a long, long time. But it sure has some new twists these days! Low-priced e-books are good, too! As you know! In fact, I have poetry chapbook out for Mother's Day. And one coming for Father's Day. Not free but close.

Let's keep sharing promotion ideas!

Love it!

Happy Mother's Day to all of you who are mothers or have a mother. (-:
Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Vivian Zabel said...

I often send copies of my books to reviewers and for special occasions, but I'm not ready to pass them out like free candy. For one reason, the cost is prohibitive (print books only).

Katie Hines said...

I always like to see what happens with other authors and their promotional work. I will certainly tuck this little tidbit away in my brain and come back to it when I have more than one book for sale.

Janet Ann Collins said...

This is certainly worth considering. But what if, like blogging, everyone starts doing it? There are already thousands of e-books available for free on the internet at places like the Gutenberg Project. If people can get all the books they have time to read for free will they be willing to pay for any?

elysabeth said...

I tend to agree with Vivian on this - books are too expensive to just give away - save the occasional review copy. Coming from the small press side of things, every book has a cost - initial setup, proof copies, and then the cost of the books themselves. Probably if I were have ebooks published a lot, I oould see some freebies.

It's really a game of luck and word of mouth and the industry is super subjective - I may absolute love someone's books/writing style, etc, and pass on to a friend who absolutely hates it. I also agree with Carolyn that sometimes selling things at a low price helps get your name out there and makes it where people are willing to find you and offer you full price for you real books. E :)

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Thanks for sharing the information. It’s a concept I’ve heard before, but it’s nice to hear how it actually worked for someone.

Martha said...

Thanks for the advice. I haven't heard of smashword I'll have to check it out. I have children's picture books so that's a bit different.
Martha Swirzinski

Dallas said...

What a great post, Dana! Thank you for sharing. I once read a business book that advised embracing the "counter-intuitive hooks" in your industry, and I think you've found a great one! Who would have thought that giving away your books for free would actually cause a boost in sales? But, after you explain it, it makes total sense.

One thing I do that really helps my book sales is volunteer to teach creative writing exercises at schools for free. I also give free copies of my books to the school library. Invariably, however, many students want to purchase autographed copies for themselves. It really is a "win-win" endeavor, and one of the most enjoyable "promotion" things I do.

Dana Donovan said...

Gosh, such great input. Thank you everyone.To be sure, Vivian, you are right. This is not something one can afford to do with print editions. And Janet,you have a good point too. There are lots of free ebooks available at places like the Gutenberg Project, but they are all older public domain books. There really is not an over abundance of free first edition novels out there. It also helps when the books you hope to sell after the free ones are reasonably priced. Most people won't pay over $3 or $4 so that's where I keep my ebooks priced at.I acknowledged that this is not a new concept and I am still experimenting. I know tha a lot of the people who downloaded my free editions won't pay for my other books, but many will. That is who I am targeting.Besides, I expect this month to hit 10K downloads. Maybe one of them will be an agent or publisher on the scout. Good luck everyone.Thanks for stopping by, and a special thanks again to you Elysabeth. Nice job!

Debra Eckerling said...

Great post! Thanks, Dana and Elysabeth! Really interesting food for thought, especially as I am currently working on expanding my platform (blog) into product (books).

elysabeth said...

It's hard trying to establish yourself but once you do - it should be worth it in the end. I'm still working on establishing myself but don't see "free as profitable" for me yet. I do give a lot of freebies away - like state related items or writing related items but not books or stories - lol - E :)

Karen Cioffi said...

Dana, this is an excellent post. They say the proof is in the pudding and it seems you created a great recipe.

I tried the free giveaways of my books on my sites, but never on lulu. I'm still going to get them on smashwords also.

I have also started presenting free workshops which created a few sales and I'm hoping more to follow.

I do think this type of promotion works better for the type of books your promoting. If they like your fiction writing, they'll be likely to want to see what else your character/s or new characters are doing.

I'm wondering if with nonfiction it would be the same, especially if the information in 2 or 3 books are somewhat similar, although each has its own unique slant and focus.

But, as you mention in your comment, you never know who is downloading your books!

Definitely food for thought. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Dallas, thanks for sharing your tips also - they seem easily doable and profitable!

Thanks, Elysabeth.

Heidiwriter said...

Very interesting, Dana. It doesn't seem quite logical at first blush, that giving your work away would result in more sales, but then again, if you gain a fan because they like your work, I imagine they would be more likely to buy the next one from you.

I think it's similar to gaining readers through used books. We do want to get our books "out there."


Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm a bit late. I use a lot of social networking and book signings. I also work with special events to there as well.

Stephen Trem[

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm a bit late. I use a lot of social networking and book signings. I also work with special events to there as well.

Stephen Trem[

Dana Donovan said...

Thanks again Elysabeth and everyone who commented. Karen, I think you're right. Non-fiction authors would probably have little success with this approach. It's true that since all my books are like-minded, I can afford to give away a slice without giving up the whole pie. I think I learned more from you all this week than I have since I joined the group. Best of luck everyone!

Liana said...

Wow, Dana, great advice! I may try it out in the future, thanks for sharing!