Assessing our freebies

We gave away a whole bunch of these last week.

Although Michael and I have been professionally involved in writing and marketing for years, we’re new to the indie book publishing industry. We’re still learning, and that means we do a lot of experiments. Some of them have worked, some have not. Our recent free promo on Amazon falls into the former category.

A lot of people look at us with stunned awe when we tell them we gave away the ebook. Yes, we gave away thousands of copies. Why? Because our goal is readers, not profits (at this point, at least). The more people with our book in their hands, the happier we are. We’re pretty happy right now. Plus, as a side benefit, we’re now more likely to show up in Amazon’s “also bought” lists on other books’ pages.

One of the benefits of joining KDP Select as an author (the only one as far as I can tell), is the ability to either offer your ebook for free for five days or to participate in a Kindle Countdown. We opted for the free period, selecting May 3 through 7. I didn’t have terribly high expectations…until I woke up the morning on May 3 and saw that we’d already “sold” almost fifty copies. We hadn’t seen those kinds of daily numbers since the first blush of publication back in February. Our numbers just went up from there. We were pretty giddy when we crossed one thousand by midday.

And it kept going.

It’s not just the simple fact of being free, however, that earned us those downloads, we needed to get the word out, and, like everything around being an indie author, that costs money. (Some days it seems like the only thing we do without paying for it is write.) There are a lot of services that “promote your promotion” in their emails—FreeBooksy, Book Doggy, Fussy Librarian, BookGorilla, Inkitt, Book Cave, Free Kindle Books and Tips, and on and on, including the big chief: Book Bub.

We did a lot of research on which services had netted the best results for other indie authors, made a list, and applied to the ones we’d selected. We were rejected by a couple of those we applied to, largely because we didn’t have enough Amazon reviews. (If you’re reading this, have read Things They Buried, and haven’t reviewed it yet, you’d make Michael and me ecstatic by doing so.) We were accepted by FreeBooksy, Book Cave, Fussy Librarian, and Book Doggy.

The Things They Buried spot ran in FreeBooksy’s May 3 enewsletter. The next day, it ran in Book Cave, Fussy Librarian, and Book Doggy, pushing us again into the thousands of downloads. (Note: Ideally, I would have spread these three mentions out across the whole promotion. Due to our review handicap, I checked “flexible date” wherever possible when applying, allowing the services to select the day of our promotion that was best for them. By doing this, we increased our chances of being selected.)

We didn’t bother applying to BookBub. Why? First, it’s notoriously difficult to get into. I’ve read many, many posts from indie authors who’ve applied ten-plus times and still not been accepted. Second, it’s crazy-expensive—$300-600 for a single-day’s placement. (Most of these services’ fees run between $19 and $100, depending on their reach.) And finally, we didn’t apply because of those six lonely Amazon reviews; BookBub requires ten to twenty before even considering a placement.

So two days, and thousands of downloads. Wow. We were giddy. I went nuts with screen shots as the book climbed the Amazon free charts. I have loads of images from Things They Buried’s rise in different genre charts. We topped out at #60 in the overall Top 100 Free list, #4 in Science Fiction and Fantasy, #1 in Science Fiction (that one was awesome), #4 in Fantasy, #1 in Dark Fantasy Horror, #1 in Science Fiction Adventure, and more that I won’t make you read through.

The next three days weren’t as productive, though we still did quite well. Without the support of the promotion services and their enewsletters, we had to rely first on Amazon’s algorithm to show our recently popular download to ebook browsers and second on social media (Instagram and Facebook primarily—I gave up on Twitter as too distracting and depressing months ago). We also ran a BookBub ad (not to be confused with their enewsletter deals; anyone can pay for an ad). This was successful, but at the cost-per-click rate required in order to be seen, we ran through that budget in hours.

What did we learn? Next time, we’ll likely split the five days over different weeks instead of using them up all at once. Social media is almost (though not quite) worthless for this sort of promotion. The reach just isn’t the same and people are so inundated with ads already, it’s easy for them to just scan over. We still saw hundreds of downloads from all that work, but nothing like the momentum from the promotion services. We’ll use those same services again, re-apply to the ones that dinged us, and keep looking for more with proven effectiveness. The instant we garner our ten reviews, we’ll apply to BookBub as well—one indie author saw similar results with the FreeBooksy-level services, but netted more than ten times the number of downloads from BookBub alone. It may be tough to get into and expensive, but you can’t argue with that level of readership.

It was worth doing our three months in KDP Select to run this promo. Sunday, May 19, will be our last day in this Amazon program, and we’ve opted not to re-up. At least not right now. Instead, we’re venturing into a new segment of the indie author world: Next week Things They Buried will be available on Kobo and Barnes & Noble.

Thank you to all of our readers, everyone who downloaded the novel during our promo, and everyone who helped spread the word. A special thank you to everyone who’s left a review or rating for Things They Buried (on Amazon or Goodreads). Without you, we wouldn’t have been able to run this promotion so effectively. Potential readers pay attention to your words—reviews are hands-down the most important sales tool in our kit.

Stop by the ismae.com blog again next week to check out more concept artwork (Sylandair and Aliara’s penthouse floor plan) and the new press kit added before the free promo. In the interim, keep reading, reviewing, and recommending.


UPDATE: On 5/21/19, we decided to go ahead and enroll in KDP Select for a second 90-day term. Why? There are more reasons than I care to share but two stand out. First, attempting to do wide distribution right now would put us behind on an already flagging writing schedule for the next book. Secondly (and more importantly) real life is complicating our schedules and making it difficult to do what we need to do to prepare Things They Buried for wide distribution. Between now and the end of our KDP Select period on 8/21/19, we intend to plan this secondary release—aggregate the websites, their needed info, and prep the appropriate files.