I Made My eBook Free for 5 Days… And Here’s What Happened

Last March, I published my first novel, Tick, the first in a YA Science Fiction series. To be more specific, I self-published. I knew full well the challenges of being a self-pubber (I’d done my research), and while I was certain I could get an agent to bite, I was determined to have full control over my work and that it was good enough to sell on its own, dammit.

IMG_1284A year later, I had serious doubts about my decision to not take the traditional route. Sure, I had some awesome reviews on Goodreads, and the people who read it continuously ask when #2 is coming out (it’s coming, but slowly… more on that in another post). But, I wasn’t selling many books. In fact, it has been a struggle to get any return on my investments. Several bloggers reviewed Tick, and some even asked me to do guest posts, but it didn’t sell any books. I participated in a couple Facebook Author Bashes, but I didn’t sell any books. People in my personal life shared the info with their friends; still didn’t sell any books.

A few people encouraged me to keep writing, saying that many new authors don’t hit their stride until their series is complete; although I am still a ways from that. Keep on truckin’, they said. Truth is, the problem began with me. As hard as I initially to tried to have a strong social media game, I still couldn’t get myself to keep up with it as much as I should have. When it was going great, I had things to talk about. When confidence waned, I didn’t want to even mention it. It’s hard to respond enthusiastically to fan inquiries when that damn elephant just won’t leave the room. After awhile, I stopped talking about my book so much. I stopped asking people to write reviews, or even read it. Was I giving up? Not completely, but the train had lost some serious steam.

Then, with a last-minute decision, I decided to sign up for a Book of the Day promotion hosted by the lovely people at OnlineBookClub.org. It’s mostly a place for book nerds to chat literary, but it’s also a great resource for authors. Last June, I got a fantastic review from them, yet again, it didn’t sell any books. So I decided to try out The Book of the Day thing, but there was a catch. Since it was a special event, I either had to recede my price to $2.99 or make it free for the day. I had a decision to make; either I could try the price reduction and see if it would finally get people to bite, or make it entirely free.

I made Tick free. Not just for one day, but for five. I figured, hell, I’m not making any money off the book now anyway, why not get some exposure and spread the book around? What’s the harm in that?

The first day, I made it to #5 in the YA Dystopian Free category in Amazon. #888 in the Free Kindle Store. Tick went from being in the 1 million+ paid store to a triple digits. Sure, it was free, but free exposure is still exposure.

Turns out, my success is a bit of an anomaly. Other authors participating in the BOTD promotion haven’t fared so well. I can’t say exactly why that is. Perhaps it was due to the attached review by the same website, or the cover, or the fact that Tick is in a readable category. Maybe it was a fluke chance of being in the right place (OnlineBookClub.org has a great social media presence), at the right time (I chose Wednesday for my promo), with the right book (YA sci-fi), at the right price (FREE). Even the people over at the OnlineBookClub are surprised by the success; perhaps no one really expected this.

glassgraphicDownloads dipped on Thursday, understandably, even though the book was still free. And then I did something I had been determined to not do: I paid for a Facebook promo. Since the free deal was set for five days, I figured I could still get some traction on the latter four, even if it wasn’t the same spike as the BOTD time. I made a graphic, posted it on Facebook, spent all of $15 to spam the hell out of people (hopefully not) on Facebook. Yes, it absolutely helped. Not hugely, but enough to make it worth it. People are still downloading it as I write this.

There is no explanation for why this particular handful of days provided me with such a jump. After so much research about “How to Promote Your Book Until You Drive Yourself Crazy,” I had gotten nowhere, and suddenly I found in the middle of a spike. One thing that I can absolutely say helped is PEOPLE, particularly the community over at the OnlineBookClub. I learned a valuable lesson in the power of a supportive community. The readers who participated in the BOTD were grateful that I offered them the chance to download my book for free, and in return they offered me retweets and Facebook shares and congratulatory messages in the wake of the promotion’s success. Without that community surge of support, none of this would have been possible. Readers want to read books. They want to support authors. They want to share appreciation. I have them to thank for this.

I made the choice to sacrifice financial gain for exposure, but I did so with a long-term plan. If even a fraction of the people who downloaded my book over the five days review it, or tell their friends, or react to it on social media, then I have absolutely gained something.

There is some more specific truth to be gained from this, however. As I said, Tick has been available for over a year. That review I mentioned is from June. I have an eye-catching cover, a good premise, and a handful of enthusiastic reviews. The high number of downloads came from Tick having a solid foundation, and that is why so many people bit off a piece of the cookie. I understand the commitment needed to read a whole 113k novel; it’s not like a 2-hour movie which can be consumed in an evening. Reading a book takes time and effort and a keen ability to block out more desirable distractions. That anyone has read my book is an accomplishment, and to add a dark subject matter and a [potentially] difficult main character on top of that, Tick is not exactly easy reading.

It is undoubtedly difficult as a self-published author to give away a book for free when so many hours have been put into writing the novel, and then to promote and sell it. Financial gain is what justifies to our loved ones that the endeavor is worth it, that it isn’t just a hobby or a far-fetched dream. Sometimes, there has to be a sacrifice.

Was it worth the sacrifice to give away my hard work for free? Abso-freakin-lutely.

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