I’m probably one of the last Indie authors to drink the make-your-book free Kool-Aid. I knew the strategy behind a free promotion: give away a book to sell more books. But, I didn’t know if it would work for me, and I had opposed the practice on principles I won’t go into here (that topic is worthy of another blog).
However, by the end of March I knew needed to do something. I was selling other books, but my 5-book Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance series was circling the drain. In March, the five books combined averaged only 2.6 sales per day. I had nothing to lose by making one of the books free.
So I made Stranded with the Cyborg (book 1) free.
My goals were:
- Introduce the Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance series to new readers.
- Increase sales of the rest of the series.
- Increase reviews for book 1.
- Grow my newsletter subscriber base.
- Test which newsletter ads delivered the best return on investment (ROI).
My initial plan was to make Stranded free for a limited period of time, like a week. I had scheduled a couple of ads I thought would deliver a high number of downloads for the end of April and planned to book a few smaller ads several days before to prime the pump.
However, to make Stranded with the Cyborg free on Amazon, I had to make it free on other booksellers first, then get Amazon to match the price. I didn’t know how long the process would take (days? weeks?) so I started early. The price change occurred much faster than I’d thought, so since the book was free the beginning of April, I decided to begin promotion and bought additional ads. I booked 2-3 ads each week of the month.
I spent $352 on 13 newsletter ads. The most I spent was $100; the least was $4. Because of objective No. 5 (determine ROI), I did not stack ads so that I could determine which ones were the most effective.
My personal challenge
Targeting to the right genre is important. However, Stranded is a science fiction romance. Most advertising venues don’t have an SFR option. So, I was forced to select from three lesser alternatives: general romance (readers are looking more for contemporary romance than SF), science fiction (hardcore SF fans don’t want romance), or paranormal (fans are more interested in shifters and vamps than aliens and cyborgs). The latter is where I generally placed the book, although I tried some of the other options too.
I had no idea how many downloads I would get. I figured 10,000 in a month might be pie-in-the-sky, but I thought 5,000 might be doable, and I’d be happy with 3,000.
Some unexpected surprises, positive and negative
- An author I know on FB included my freebie in her newsletter one day and I had nearly 500 downloads!
- A multi-author 5-day paid promotion (Space Kissed) had negligible effect on downloads. I doubt I got more than a handful.
- The debacle: The day of my $100 Freebooksy ad, which was supposed to be one of my heavy-hitters, Amazon unexpectedly upped the price of my free book to full cover! All the people who clicked on the link thinking it would be free found it wasn’t on sale. Amazon fixed it by the next day, but it was too late. I lost about 1,000 downloads, and who knows how many future sales.
- The silver lining to the debacle: Some people who clicked on the link bought the book anyway, and I had my single best sales day in 8 years of publishing. It didn’t make me rich, but yeah, I wish I could make that every day!
The results – goal v. achievement
- Introduce the Cy-Ops Sci-fi Romance series to new readers – I got 6580 downloads of Stranded by the Cyborg
- Increase of the sales of the other four books of the series – Almost immediately, sales increased to 6 books per day and by month’s end I averaged 9.2 sales per day on the other books of series.
- Increase the number of the reviews for Stranded with the Cyborg, book 1. – I gained 7 reviews in April, with others continuing in May
- Grow my newsletter subscriber base – Added 110 organic subscribers to my NL list.
- Test which newsletter ads delivered the best return on investment (ROI) – check!
By figuring out the cost per download (CPD), I could compare the ROI between newsletters. Generally, but not necessarily, the more you pay for an ad, the more downloads you get. However, I found one $10 newsletter that delivered more downloads per cent than any of the more expensive ones. A good CPD is about 5 or 6 cents, 10 cents isn’t bad, but way over 10 cents is poor. Anything over 20 cents is a dud.
I was pleased with the results of the promotion. I think I could have hit 10,000 downloads if not for the Amazon/Freebooksy debacle and if I had booked a couple more ads. It’s a numbers game because many people who download free books don’t read them. I’m glad I decided not to stack the ads, because it did give me a good idea which ones work for me, and which ones don’t.
Like I said, the more you pay, generally the more downloads you’ll get, but my opinion is that 500 downloads per day is my benchmark when booking a low-to-moderate priced ad. If you can get 1,000 DLs or more, that’s exceptional. Less than 200 isn’t worth the ad at any price. Between 200 and 500, it depends on how much you paid. A $100 ad should deliver at least 1000 downloads (that’s 10 cents per DL) in a single day.
My review rate seems low, but it took 2 weeks for the first new review to post, but then in May, I started getting many more, which probably came about as a result of books downloaded in April. As I write this (mid may), I’ve had 15 total new reviews.
The final thing I’d like to say about doing a free promotion is that it’s fun. Even though you’re giving books away and not making money (it’s costing money because of the advertising), seeing huge numbers of downloads is a kick. And the goal is that it will pay off later.
After April’s experience, I decided to continue the free promotion for another month and follow a similar strategy, but the plan quickly went awry. Find out what happened in May in part 2 of this series on Wednesday. On Friday, in Part 3, I’ll share which newsletter ads were the most effective.