My marketing strategy has earned me quite a few strange looks and quizzical emails. It’s a simple, two stage strategy.
Stage one: give away all my books for free for 12 months.
Stage two: put a price tag on all future books while keeping the initial books free.
The singular emphasis of the first 12 months is on exposure with the goals being to build a fan base and backlist fast. My books are free everywhere (which includes all major e-reader libraries and multiple other sites) except on Amazon, where they’re listed at .99 each. Five of them, 3 in the UK and 2 in the US, are also free on Amazon.
I started the first stage of the strategy in January with the publishing of my first book, Damian’s Oracle. I’ve since published 4 novels, 1 novella, and 1 short story and will publish 5 more and revised versions of the first two I published before I had an editor and cover artist.
So, why free, aside from building a fan base and backlist?
I’ll frame this by emphasizing that my focus is long term.
- First, downloads of my free books range between 10,000-17,000 a month, whereas my initial sales were only 30-40 a month. Do I want 10,000 people exposed to my book or 30?
- Second, I have about 65 writing projects either started or in mind. I can spare the 10-12 books I’m giving away this year.
- Third, I have a full-time job. I can maintain what I’m doing as long as I need to without the extra income.
- Fourth, my book budget for the month is about $400. Since I’m giving away 10-12 books this year, that means each book gets an investment of $400. What I chose to spend it on: professional editing, professional cover, paperback book giveaways. All other marketing/advertising is done for free online. Royalties are re-invested into the books.
- Fifth, technology has gotten to the point where e-publishing and distribution is free.
- Sixth, why not try something no one else has? What people forget is that – if a marketing strategy/price point/distribution network doesn’t work – we have the power to change it. Indie writers are entrepreneurs.
In December 2012, we start stage two, which is where all books I release from December onward will have a price tag.
We’re looking at two options to encourage those who are already reading my books to continue to do so: either
- offering e-book versions of the books free to everyone on my mailing list or
- offering a subscription service, where readers will pay something like $10/year and receive all my books with no other charge for 2012.
Below I’ve listed some measurable results, general observations, and lessons learned from the first few months.
- Damian’s Oracle (released 1/11) and Damian’s Assassin (released 2/11) are ranked at 88 and 89 respectively on Smashwords Top 100 Downloaded of all time, beating out several books that were published years ago.
- Downloads of free version of my books range between 10,000-17,000 a month.
- Damian’s Assassin and Katie’s Hellion (released 5/2011) are consistently rated in the top 5,000 in the US Kindle paid store.
- My monthly sales look something like this:
- January – April 2011: 30-40 a month (1.2/day)
- May: 468 (15/day)
- June: 805 (26.8/day)
- July: 1200+ (Projected; 46.5/day)
- My mailing list has gone from maybe 1 person a week signing up in April to 3-5 a day in July.
- My website’s Google ranking has gone from 0 to 3 in six months. Its Alexa ranking has gone from 7+ million to right around 600K.
- My website’s unique visitor traffic has gone from a baseline of less than 20 unique visitors A MONTH in 12/2010 to a baseline of at least 200 unique visitors A DAY in July.
- I have somewhere between 1200-1600 reviews and ratings across all my books.
More general observations:
- 20%+ of my website traffic comes from outside the US and Canada.
- The international market is the catalyst behind a recent decision to have my most popular book, Katie’s Hellion, translated into Chinese and Spanish. The translations will likely be released this fall.
- Steady increase in Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, followers/retweets/comments over the past 6 months.
- Tons of readers’ feedback has helped me improve my writing, to include character development and pacing of stories, over a relatively short period of time.
- One free book on Amazon will jettison the sales of your other books much faster than any other site listing your book for free.
- You MUST build your online platform as you build your book catalog. If people can find you easily, they’ll follow/friend/leave comments. It’s important to make yourself approachable/reachable via your online presence for both the international market and the tech-savvy/dependent generations.
- The only two things I’d advise anyone to pay for: a professional cover and editing. Marketing and advertising can be done for free online.
- Amazon has the lowest percentage of downloads to reviews. It’s well under .1% for my books. Barnes and Noble has a much higher percentage. Somewhere around 2-3% of readers will leave reviews.
- International traffic/interest in my books is coming almost solely from free e-book sites like obooko.com.
- Grassroots, word-of-mouth marketing is still more effective than paid advertising. Maximize this by:
- Making your website/contact info easy to find everywhere your books are and invite readers to leave feedback in your bios.
- Responding within 3 days to readers/reviewers who contact you.
- Recognize when you have a die-hard fan on your hands and reward them with an advanced e-book copy, free paperback book or something that makes them a fan for life.
- Including links to your site in every post you make on someone else’s blog and online forums/boards.
- Buy business cards (Vista Print is cheap) and hand them out to anyone you meet who’s interested in writing or reading!
- Start discussions on Goodreads; ask your readers for feedback on new ideas.
- Interview everywhere you can, whether on bloggers’, readers’, or other writers’ sites.
- Goodreads giveaways of paperback versions will pay off almost immediately in terms of the number of people who see your book and want to read it. I had 387 people enter the drawing for my first giveaway and 998 for my second.
- On the tech side, back-links and posting new content to your site 2-3 times a week are huge for bringing in those using search engines to your site.
- Also on the tech side, using something like Google Analytics will help you tailor your online activity to bring in the most readers/visitors to your site.
- Joining a good indie writing group will help you build your professional network, which is a must for those just starting out. You’ll be exposed to more resources and free marketing/advertising opportunities as well as make some friends.
- The books selling the best and having the most downloads: Young Adult/Paranormal.
- I did a blog challenge in April where I tried to post every day. It helped me build my site’s content very quickly.
So there you have it. Please leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts!