Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Selling Books with a Loss Leader

Last week I talked about the importance of having multiple books available, if you are an indie author. This gives potential readers several “entry points” to your work, and can also mean every successful act of publicity leads to multiple sales to one customer. Having several books available also provides special publicity opportunities.

I can also make use of publicity tactics such as a “loss leader” title. This means you offer one book at a deep discount, or even free. People are much more likely to try a free book. If they like it, they are more likely to pay several dollars for other books by that author.

Many writers trying self-publishing offer their first book for free, trying to gain fans. But how much does it help you to have a new fan, if you don’t have anything else for them to buy? Will they remember you in six months or a year when you get another book out? Will they even recognize your name if Amazon recommends your next book? The whole point of a “loss leader” is to drive sales to your regularly-priced books. It’s pointless if you only have one title out.

One note – many indie authors offer all their books for free hoping to build readership. Many readers have gotten burned by books that are mediocre or worse. Some readers now refuse to buy $.99 e-books and won’t even “waste their time” trying free books. However, if you have a normal price of $3-6 and offering that book for free for a limited time, you can bypass some of the stigma associated with free books.

So that’s why I’m focusing first on getting two more books published. Once I have four on the market, I may take a few months off to do a major publicity push. That’s not to say I’m doing nothing now – of course I’m telling friends about my books, mentioning them in context on blog posts here or in guest blog posts, sharing news on Facebook, and so forth. But I can resist the pressure to spend dozens of hours a week just focused on publicity. Writing the next book is more important.  
"Hey, this book is available now!"
This also gives me time to learn more about what seems to work and what doesn’t with publicity. I can explore some new social networks, test out a few things in small ways, and in general prepare now so I won’t be overwhelmed later. I can even tweak cover art, description blurbs, tag words and so forth to find the best combination for selling my work.

And I don’t have to feel bad if I only sell 10 copies of a title in a month. 10 copies is a drop in the pool, and maybe the ripples will start reaching out now. In the meantime, I can focus on writing the next book.


  1. I have often thought about giving away books...after all that work?! But I do see the point of having one book for free if you have other books in your portfolio. Good post, Chris.

  2. Right! Some people also suggest that giving away work for free gives it less perceived value and lets people assume all writing should be free. But a limited time discount or free offer when the rest of your work is 'full price' can be a good marketing tactic.

  3. One thing that seems like it would work well is to do a short story (or novella) for free. BUT... it seems like writers see this as an opportunity to do a teaser -- "now I've got you hooked, so buy my book." But as a reader, that just makes me mad. Give me a complete, stand-alone story. Sure, make it linked to recurring characters, if you want (and by you, I mean Joe Blow Author), but I will be much more likely to support your writing if I feel like you entertained me than if you were yanking my chain. Oh, and make sure it's GOOD -- not your throwaway stuff.

    Anyway, that might be one way to go about gaining readers without the same amount of investment on the writer's part as a whole book.

  4. Good point, Ella. A short story or novella can be offered for free as a teaser, with less investment by the author. Unfortunately, people who write novels are not always good at writing short stories. I wonder if this is one reason why some excerpt a novel or otherwise give an incomplete story. And probably some of it is misguided marketing!

    But I agree, a satisfying, complete story will work better, and of course it has to be good. I'm astonished when people talk about digging through their old stuff to see if they have anything they can toss out as a freebie. You need to make a good impression.

  5. I like the idea of offering work for free temporarily. I think if readers see a deadline they'll be more likely to take a chance on a book than miss an oppportunity.