Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Using Giveaways for Promotions

Helping an audience find your books is one of the big challenges for all writers, but particularly debut or self-publishing writers. You can find a lot of mixed opinions about giving away free books as a promotion. I thought I’d share some experiences for my Wednesday series of posts looking at the business side of publishing.

There are several ways you can give away free e-books – providing coupons on Smashwords, offering gift books that you send directly to the reader or buy and send through Amazon, or resetting your book’s price as free as one seller (usually Smashwords) so that Amazon will match the price. But one of the most effective methods seems to be joining Amazon’s KDP Select program.

The disadvantage is that you have to pull your book off of all other sellers. This means your friends and family members with a Nook won’t be able to get the book, and some review sites won’t review books that aren’t available in all electronic formats. However, most independent authors find that the majority of their sales come from Amazon, so the trade-off may be worth it. Also, you can sign up for the Select program for 90 days at a time, so you can alternate between having your book available everywhere and using the Amazon program.

The big advantage to KDP Select is that you can make your book free for up to five days in the 90 day period. Through proper promotion, this can lead to thousands of downloads, which can improve your book’s rankings, bringing it to the attention of potential buyers. But does it work?

I decided to try this for myself. Shortly after I signed on to the program with Whispers In the Dark, I started hearing authors claim that the free book giveaways were not as effective as they had been previously. Amazon had change their algorithms, so free downloads are now only equal to a small percent of a paid sale, and so they no longer provided as much of a boost in rankings.

My first book, Rattled, had been out over a year, and my second book, Whispers In the Dark, was published in December. Sales to date of these “adult” books published under the name Kris Bock (as opposed to my children’s books published under the name Chris Eboch) have been miniscule, three or four a month. I’ve done very little publicity, because I was focused on getting three books out so I could promote them all. I’m running behind schedule on publishing my third, but I wanted to use my free days before the first 90 days expired.

At the advice of other authors on a mystery writers listserv, I submitted the information to Ereader News TodayIndie Book List, and The Frugal eReader. Some other sites either had a fee or didn’t seem to be active anymore. I also posted the info on Facebook, sent Twitter announcements, posted to a couple of GoodReads groups, and sent a notice to four listserves I’m on. I arranged for Whispers in the Dark to be free for three days, July 21 to23.

Saturday, 7/21, it showed up on Indie Book List, The Frugal eReader, and Free Books Hub (I did not submit it there, so they must have picked it up from somewhere else). Here are a couple of rankings from that day:

11:45 AM MST: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,789 Free in Kindle Store 
• #39 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance > Romantic Suspense
• #76 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure

7:00 PM Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194 Free in Kindle Store 
#4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure

On Sunday showed up on EReaderNewsToday.com. That day’s rankings:

2:30 pm: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #96 Free in Kindle Store 
#5 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure
#7 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance > Romantic Suspense

8:45 pm Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32 Free in Kindle Store 
#2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure
#5 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance > Romantic Suspense

On Monday, I didn’t find any place new it posted, but it reached its highest rankings:

8:20 am Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #14 Free in Kindle Store 
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure
#3 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Genre Fiction > Romance > Romantic Suspense

11 am, 1:40 pm, and 3:15: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13 Free in Kindle Store 
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Fiction > Action & Adventure (but it had dropped out of the Romantic Suspense rankings)

By Tuesday, 8 am, it had dropped out of the category rankings, but kept improving slightly in paid rankings: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,461 Paid in Kindle Store 

Sunday, 7/29: Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,716 Paid in Kindle Store. (For comparison, my traditionally published books are often between 100,000 and half a million. The smaller the number, the better.)

In the top 20 romantic suspense free books, most had an average of four stars, with a few slightly over three stars. The number of reviews ranged from zero to several hundred, and didn’t seem to affect ranking. Based on my own habits, I would have expected the number of reviews to matter more, so I would have waited until I had around 10 reviews to promote the book. It doesn’t seem that other people shop the same way, at least for free books. However, having more and better reviews could mean more sales after the book is no longer free.

In all, I had 15,149 free downloads (obviously those aren’t all people I know personally!). Now on to the important stuff – how did this translate into paid sales?

Unit sales covering period 07/01/2012 to 07/31/2012 (most of these from the two days after it was free):

Whispers in the Dark: 71 sold, 9 refunded, 62 net sold, 16 borrowed. (Joining KDP Select puts your book in the “library” of books that Amazon Prime members can borrow. Authors get about two dollars per borrow.)

And the sales spilled over to Rattled: 23 sold, 1 refunded, 22 net sold, 0 borrowed. 

Sales kept up for another week or so. From 8/1 to 8/11, I sold 28 copies of Whispers in the Dark and 11 copies of Rattled. In total, I made almost $400 from Kindle in 3 weeks. (This did not translate into any additional sales of the print books, although I did sell about 50 copies of my children’s mystery The Eyes of Pharaoh in July and early August.)

Sales then dropped off, but remained better than previously. From 8/12 to 8/25, I sold six copies of Whispers in the Dark and 9 copies of Rattled (could it be that some people who got Whispers for free read it and liked it enough to go back for Rattled?!)

A few other notes – I raised the price on Whispers in the Dark to $4.99 before I made it free, figuring that people tend to think they’re getting a better deal if they get a $5 item for free than if they get a $3 item for free. I don’t know if that affected the number of sales I’ve gotten since then, but I got more per book sold. Rattled is still at $2.99.

I know some of my friends and children’s book writing colleagues picked up the book because it was free. While we might prefer that people we know pay for our books to support us, realistically, that doesn’t always happen. I certainly can’t afford to buy every book from every writer I know! At least some of these friends have gotten a look at my books for adults, and one of them already read and reviewed it.

I did this in a rush, because my 90 days were about to expire. I debated signing up Whispers in the Dark again versus starting my next book in KDP Select. I decided to do Whispers again, even though the bump might not be as good the second time around, so I can use the giveaway to help drive traffic to the next book.

I’ll probably make the new book, What We Found, available on Amazon and B&N for a month or so and try to get a few early reviews, then enter it in the program as well. I don’t think I’ll publish it on Smashwords, at least at first, because it’s harder to pull down from there to make it exclusive on Kindle. With direct publishing on B&N, I can remove the book within a day. Because Smashwords distributes to other companies (Kobo, Sony) it can take months to make changes. I’ve hardly made any money from Smashwords anyway.

Next Wednesday, I’ll take another look at the KDP Select program by sharing the experiences of some other authors.

Buy the Rattled e-book on Kindle for $2.99

See Whispers in the Dark on Amazon. (Prime members can borrow it for free.)

See Kris Bock’s books on Amazon.


  1. There has been a lot of buzz recently about KDP. Unfortunately, my books are not eligible. One author I know had a bad experience, though, as it seemed that of the many downloads, some were specifically targeting Christian books and then slamming them in reviews etc. I guess there are drawbacks to everything.

  2. I have heard that you're more likely to get negative reviews after free book giveaways. I suspect it's generally because people are more willing to try something they wouldn't have paid for. I don't know anything about the book you reference, but maybe it was described in a way that attracted the wrong audience. Or maybe people were just being jerks! But if they specifically wanted to attack books with a certain philosophy, they wouldn't even need to buy the book first.