This is my second posting for Alex Cavanaugh’s Insecure Writer Support Group. This month, I’m addressing an issue that really bothers me sometime, and that I know bedevils other writers, marketing what you’ve written.
Make no mistake about it, writing; serious writing; is hard work. After deciding what to write, you struggle with how to most effectively express it in words, sentences, and paragraphs. When you plotted, planned, and shaped those words, you then have to face the daunting task of re-writing and editing to make sure you’ve expressed yourself in the best possible way.
If you think, after you’ve done all that, the job is done; stop, have a cup of coffee and listen up. The job’s just started. Unless you’re writing merely for your personal amusement, you want to be read, and that means you have to take the next step – and, it’s a big one. You have to get what you’ve written in front of readers, and hopefully keep it there long enough for them to read and enjoy it.
That’s right; I’m talking about the m-word. Like trips to the dentist, marketing your writing is unpleasant and uncomfortable, but ultimately necessary if you’re to succeed in this line of work we call writing. There’s that ‘work’ word again.
There are a number of ways to market your books. Social media, public engagements, ads, are all ways to get your efforts in front of an audience and, hopefully, create a buzz about it that leads to more readers and more sales.
One method that has generated a lot of comment and controversy of late is using give-aways as a means of promoting your writing. Some writers swear by it, while others swear at it, and vehemently avoid it. After all, the second group maintains, if your work is free it will be seen as having no value.
Before enlisting in this group, though, I recommend you think about it for a while. It might seem counter-intuitive, but offering people something for free can be a way to get them to buy. Big stores do it, and successfully. My own experience with this form of marketing offers a look at some of the advantages of this method.
Like many, I was reluctant at first. My thought was; I’ve worked long and hard on this book, why should I just give it away? But, I’m always up for trying something new, so I decided to give it a go.
Most of my books are available on Amazon in Kindle version, and the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) program enables an author who enrolls a book to offer it free for a designated period, provided it is exclusive to the program during the free period. You can get the details of the program at the KDP link, but here’s how it’s worked for me.
I do two series; a western/historical fiction series about the Buffalo Soldiers, and a mystery series. I dipped my feet in the water by offering a couple of my mysteries free for the five-day period. Each time, there were hundreds of downloads (primarily in the US market, with a few in the UK). There were no big upticks in sales, but I did notice that whenever I offered one book in the series free, there were modest sales of all the other titles. I then decided to try it with the Buffalo Soldier series, which were just beginning to catch on. The first couple of times, sales went up moderately each time for each book in the series, but nothing to write home about.
Then, in May 2013, I released the fifth book in the series, Buffalo Soldier: Renegade. After two weeks of lackluster sales, I decided to try a free promotion. During the five-day promotion, there were nearly 400 downloads, mainly in the US market, but it was the two week period following the promotion that opened my eyes. In addition to another 400 sales of that title, readers purchased 5 to 10 copies per week of each of the other titles. My royalty revenue for that month was over $800, which isn’t a bad return for a loss leader.
That wasn’t the end of it, either. The next book in the series, Buffalo Soldier: Escort Duty was released in September. I waited a week and then offered it free. There were 336 downloads during a short three-day period, and then the week after it ended, sales of that title were approaching the 200 mark, and again, 5 to 10 copies per week of each of the five preceding titles. Revenue thus far is nearing the $500 mark, and it has even generated sales of the paperback versions of each.
Maybe offering free books is not for everyone, but I’m sold on this as an effective marketing tool. It’s not the only one, and if you don’t have a large number of books on your backlist, it might not be worth the effort. But, it certainly shouldn’t be ignored. It hasn’t hurt the value of my books. I continue to get fairly decent reviews on Amazon, and repeat readers who are willing to shell out money to read them, so until I experience a drop in sales I will continue to do what entrepreneurs in other sectors do, and do quite successfully.