I know a lot of authors, each with their own opinions about giving away free eBooks. The opinions span quite a range, from vehement opposition to utter flippancy (and everything in between). They run the entire gamut.
On the one hand you have those who are seriously in opposition to the idea of giving up free eBooks. They have poured their heart and soul, their sweat and their tears into their work. They have slaved and agonized over each and every paragraph, word and period. They will refuse to devalue themselves and their art for people who have begun to feel entitled to getting the milk without buying the cow. They would rather slit their wrists lengthwise and bleed out than offer you a piece of their intellectual property without being paid for it.
On the other hand you have those who are so lost within the murky waters of marketing and publishing that they’ve not been able to form a single coherent thought, based on factual evidence and data, with regards to free eBooks or any other facet of this complex animal we call indie publishing. They run around like chickens with their heads cut off, trying to succeed, throwing everything at the wall at least once to see if any of it will stick. They are adrift in the middle of the publishing sea without sails or even a paddle. They have no lifeline, no food and no water. Their raft is falling apart and inevitably they will starve, sink or be eaten by the circling sharks.
Neither of these approaches, in my own experience, is the correct way to go about your success as an indie author.
Let’s back up a bit though and talk about some of my own experiences, so you know where I’m coming from and why you might be persuaded to think I am qualified to be offering my opinions on the matter.
I published my first short story with Amazon Kindle Direct on December 15th, 2014.
Many months before that, I began writing it in installments (nine if I’m not mistaken) on a fetish site, as both a creative outlet and as entertainment for my peers. I would love to say that it garnered a lot of attention, but that would be a lie. I had a few faithful fans and that was nice, but I realized something (a few things really); writing was something that made me feel excited and energized, with or without appreciation from readers (though that was definitely a welcome bonus) and I wanted to see if there was a way that I could make a living doing it.
After so many years of the daily grind slowly wearing away at my happiness and dashing my once eager desire to thrive against the rocks of apathy, until I drifted listlessly in a pool of lassitude, I began to get my spark back. I began to fight. Writing did this. I wanted to take back my life, make my own hours, do my work from anywhere and, at the same time, not have to worry about my mortgage payments.
This has always been my goal. I’m not there yet, but I have come a bloody far way from where I started and learned an awful lot along that way.
In my nine to five life, I have been involved in many aspects of marketing and technology. I’ve been updating and maintaining websites for over a decade, reviewing analytics, posting social media, blogging, designing, printing and mailing marketing materials, generating newsletters and email marketing campaigns, creating YouTube videos and more.
In my opinion these skills have all been of major benefit during my journey through the indie publishing world. There is still a very steep learning curve to applying these skills effectively in a brand new industry. When I first published ‘Bait’, nearly 2 years ago I resembled that chicken with its head cut off. I did not know my ass from my elbow in publishing. I had no idea how to effectively market my book.
I was one of those people, for a very brief period of time, who thought I might just be that one to click that publish button and become an overnight success, with everyone realizing my creative genius and paying homage to it. *giggle snorts* My delusions were soon obliterated.
I went on a second, synchronous journey of self education. I observed what others were doing and emulated it with as much success as they did – which is to say none at all. Do you have any idea how many authors there are plastering their unpaid advertisements all over Facebook in groups comprised almost solely of other authors doing the same? Or how many authors are growing their friends lists and page likes in ‘Like for Like’ groups? Or how many authors relentlessly plaster the same one or two book ads on Twitter 24/7, just hoping a potential fan will see and buy?
Einstein once said that “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. I see this all too often. Indie authors repeat the same time consuming, valueless marketing tasks over and over hoping and praying that they will eventually make an impact. It’s a lot like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the side of the mountain and it’s painful to watch – especially since I’ve been there myself.
This is all bullshit. A network of other authors is an important thing to build, but if your pages aren’t comprised of reading fans, then you’re wasting your time marketing to the wrong people. You need to find your target audience and engage with them. Not to mention the algorithms that are put in place to actively limit who sees your posts, in order to get you to pay for that privilege. You have to be pretty crafty to beat those algos – especially as they are becoming smarter at detecting and hiding ads.
And don’t even get me started on Twitter, where the average shelf life for a post is less than fifteen minutes. The whole platform is practically built for inanity, trolls and SPAM. Trying to sell a book on Twitter could easily become a lesson in futility. I felt vindicated in my thoughts on this matter when I looked at the list of top selling erotica authors and noticed that they had either no presence or very little presence at all on Twitter (many are not even on Facebook, or are not active).
You’d have to be giving your eBooks away for free to get anyone at all to take any notice. And that’s not even a guarantee, since so many others are doing the same thing. The public has become anesthetized to the free eBook. Even worse, many have come to expect that they should always be provided with free eBooks, that they are entitled to them.
Which brings us back to the point of this article (or the hook at least – there are many points hiding in here):
TO GIVE, OR NOT TO GIVE? THAT IS THE QUESTION.
But before I give you my answer on that let me further digress. I just slammed the two biggest social media platforms that authors are using to sell books (or rather not to sell books, in most cases). I don’t want to give you the impression that these platforms are useless or that they do not have their place. Their primary use (unless, in the case of Facebook, you are skilled at targeting an audience and getting a ROI when you purchase ads) is to build your brand and market your author personality to your fans, making you accessible and helping you to build your author platform.
I just carelessly tossed in and glossed over the words author platform – but they are two very important words. These two words tie, very well, in to the theme of this article, because the absolute best way that I have found (in the two years that I have been publishing) to build my author platform is to give away free eBooks.
I spent a lot of time and some money in my educational journey to gain this insight. I read many articles and blogs, attended many webinars and watched a lot of tutorial videos. I eventually learned to separate the wheat from the chaff and find out who the real thought leaders were (people like Dave Chesson (Kindlepreneur), Alinka Rutkowska, Selena Kitt (a valuable resource for Erotica Authors especially), Joanna Penn (The Creative Penn) and Nick Stephenson (Your First 10K Readers) to name a few) and to learn from them, taking a more focused approach to my self education. It paid off.
One common thread I found from the most successful educational resources was that they all learned how to leverage free eBooks to build a system that would promote them virtually on autopilot once it was set up. They used free eBooks as a means to build a somewhat self sustaining author platform that would continuously provide an influx of new readers and email sign ups.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘author platform’, it can best be summed up as the machine you use to brand yourself and sell your books. It typically includes your website and or blog, social media and (perhaps most importantly) your newsletter, among other things. You may not realize, but the importance of a newsletter (and of building a following) is of utmost importance.
An email list and newsletter become your path for direct communication between you and your readers. Your newsletter allows you to communicate directly with a targeted audience that is predisposed to purchase your work. It’s importance cannot be overstated. It is a way to build on and improve upon your brand and image, to offer loyal fans rewards and to make yourself approachable and likable so you can artfully persuade readers to support you by buying more of your work. There are no algorithms limiting your communications with these targeted readers (as with social media) and you are in control of your own destiny, no longer at the whims of fickle social media sites or relying on Amazon or other book sites to promote you.
I think the problem that most people, who are against the idea of giving away free eBooks on principal, have with it is that they fail to see they are getting something in return if they do it correctly. In essence, you are not giving away a free eBook; you are exchanging your work for a valuable piece of information – an email address. And for those who are just giving away free eBooks, without gaining anything in return, and just hoping that it will lead to something:
YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
Giving away a free eBook without collecting an email, or something else of value from your readers is doing the entire community a disservice. This is what devalues our work and leads to this sense of entitlement readers have begun to gain. TINSTAAFL (there is no such thing as a free lunch).
If you want to make free ebooks work for you, then you should employ the 80/20 rule and focus on building this machine that will take 20% of your time to setup and maintain, yet provide you with 80% of your sales leads. Stop wasting time on social media tasks with ineffective or very iffy results that are not in your control and go to some of the resources listed above for detailed information on how to build an author platform that works.
I’ll briefly describer the basics of this process so you can get your feet wet before diving in:
- Set up a permafree book on Amazon (make sure your ducks are in a row: take time to research category and key phrases, make sure your cover art and blurb are good to go, take the time to fill in all of (or most of) the sections of your book page on Amazon, and make sure your author page is optimized too)
- Add a link inside of your Permafree book for a second free eBook. This link drives traffic to a landing page on your website where the reader provide their email address (for your newsletter) in exchange for the second book
- Direct market to your new subscribers via email. Direct email to targeted audiences has a much higher success rate than any other method
I won’t go into specific numbers on a public forum like this, but I will say that my stagnant email list has grown exponentially since I implemented this system. My sales have increased more than 100 fold. My permafree book ‘Seduced by 2‘ has been in the #1 spot on Amazon for Free Bisexual Erotica and in the top 10 of Free Romantic Erotica for more than six months. My reviews for my free book have more than tripled. My author rank for Erotic eBooks has stayed in the top 1500 since June, hitting 174 when I launched book 3 in my Best Friends to Lovers series, ‘Getting Bent’ (which hit #1 in paid results for a category in Erotica – which can be attributed to the mass email that I sent to my newsletter subscribers who had all read parts 1 and 2 for free and were itching for more).
Most important of all, I am now on my way to becoming a full time author and master of my own destiny.
The proof is in the pudding. If you are intelligent about the way you go about giving away free eBooks then it is hard to come up with a good argument against utilizing them in your marketing efforts, unless of course you do not wish to succeed as an indie author.
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