MAKING A DECISION
Well, it's over and done with, and it's time to review the experience. Having put 5 of my Angel Mountain novels onto the Kindle Store on Amazon over the past few weeks, all of the Kindle experts whom I have consulted were telling me that I must do a free promotion. Others have taken the line that it is somehow demeaning to give books away -- either in electronic format or in conventional book form -- and that a respectable author must "hold up the value of his product" and stay well clear of the Kindle publishing riff-raff.........
Anyway, for better or for worse, I decided that I would not be so precious as to decide that Kindle marketing techniques were beneath my dignity, and I decided to go for it. So I set it all up, and "On Angel Mountain" was available free, initially for 3 days, starting on the morning of 22 May and ending on the morning of 25 May. Very quickly I realized that there was a lot of inertia in the system, and that one needed time to get things rolling, so I extended the "freebie" period to the full 5 days permitted (that's the maximum allowed by Amazon in any 90-day period). Unless you are a massive success as a Kindle author, maybe with a following of half a million readers, I don't see any merit in a "short freebie promo" since it will be over and done with before people notice that you are there......)
My hope was that if I could get a lot of downloads of "On Angel Mountain" (the first book in a Saga which now has 8 volumes) that might trigger an interest in the Saga among Kindle users -- a totally new market for me -- and then lead to actual sales of the subsequent volumes in the series. Would I be losing income as a result of the freebie promotion? I did not think so.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
One of the good things about Amazon's Kindle scheme is that once you have an account you can monitor your book sales and free downloads pretty effectively. You get a KDP Select "dashboard" page on which all your titles are listed, and once you log in you can check on an hourly basis to see how downloads are going. Life is too short to look at the computer screen on a minute-by-minute basis, but by checking now and again you can get an impression of trends.
At the end of my 5-day period, when the promo was automatically stopped by Amazon, I had seen downloads totalling 3,604 copies of "On Angel Mountain." That's over a period of 120 hours -- so the average rate of downloads was about 30 per hour. Nearly all of those downloads were in the UK and USA, with a few in Germany, France, Spain and Italy. (Actually some of them might have been in Australia and New Zealand -- some people can access the Amazon.com site in those countries, and presumably get downloads just as the residents of the USA can.) In the first half day of the free promo, there were about 400 downloads, split more or less equally between USA and UK -- and downloads must have been running at about 60 per hour for a short while. That brought the book up to number ten in the "Top 100 Free Kindle Downloads" table. After that, things settled down to a more regular pattern of downloads, running at between 20 and 40 per hour. That was enough to keep the book in the top 40 throughout the download period. On the occasions when I looked at the chart my book was highest at number 24 and lowest at number 39. I imagine that those titles that make it into the top five of the chart must be getting downloads at the rate of several hundreds per hour. At the other end of the scale, there must be hundreds of titles published that do NOT get into the "top hundred" at any stage -- and that must be quite dispiriting for the authors and publishers who have gone to the trouble (and it IS trouble!) of uploading their precious manuscripts to the Kindle site. There must be vast numbers of titles which -- even with freebie promos -- never shift more than a few tens of copies, mainly to the author's immediate and wonderfully supportive family members............
Another interesting thing -- I noticed that I was "competing" with several soft porn titles, several chick lits, chillers and thrillers, and titles like "Pride and Prejudice", "Dracula", and "Wuthering Heights". These latter classics are probably permanent fixtures in the table, hovering around in the top 40 and downloading 30 or so copies per hour, day after day, month after month......... I couldn't see any real pattern in the downloads, except that for some reason on one evening downloads of "On Angel Mountain" went up to 60 per hour -- that's one every minute -- and then settled down again......
Should I be satisfied? I really have no idea. I started off thinking that maybe 2,500 downloads (500 per day) would be a good target. In fact I exceeded that by a substantial margin, with downloads of about 720 copies per day.
USING SOCIAL MEDIA
All of the generous advice I received before deciding to go for it with my promo included an exhortation to work hard with Twitter and the other social media -- since presumably without this hard work people might not even notice your book. That's not entirely true -- some people will notice it, since as soon as a promo starts, Amazon alters the price to zero on your book page:
in the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007GATW2O
in the US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007GATW2O
There is also this:
Top 100 free Kindle books:
There are also other Amazon lists which you will find if you are a book lover looking for a free book to download for your Kindle. Some of them are actually quite confusing; if you hunt for free Kindle downloads on the Amazon web site you will often end up looking at another "top 100 free downloads" site where you can select by genre, hunting for "fantasy", "science fiction" or whatever. The trouble with those lists is that many of the books on them are not free at all -- and I cannot work out what the process may be by which books get listed. There are also many other sites which are quite independent of Amazon -- some of them apparently honest and some blatantly commercial and biased.
So, assuming that you are going to get SOME downloads without any effort on your part, how do you get the downloads really rolling? Hard grind, I'm afraid -- lots of Emails to your friends and colleagues, lots of tweeting, lots of Facebook entries. Social media are the things that matter -- and apparently (according to the Ebook millionaires) word of mouth and twittering then take over after a while, and your happy fans will run the whole marketing campaign for you by liking you, posting reviews, and texting and chatting with one another.
I would recommend that you devote at least a week to your freebie promo campaign, with at least a couple of days "preparing the ground" before the 5-day promo starts and then putting in intensive work during the five days. It's probably a good idea to make sure you don't have anything else to divert your attention -- and to spend many hours in front of your computer, tweeting into your iPhone, or whatever.
My own experience:
EMAILS -- I Emailed all of my contacts with a message telling them about the free promotion and encouraging them to look at the Amazon page for the book. Several hundred messages went out, with an exhortation to my non-Kindle friends to pass the word on to friends and relatives who own Kindle readers. I have no idea how effective those Email messages were -- I got very little feedback (I suspect that very few of my contacts own Kindles); many messages bounced back (that's the way with mailing lists -- a proportion of the addresses were redundant); and in the real world most people are probably too busy to pay much attention to unsolicited messages of this type, even if they come from close friends or family. My advice? That Emails should probably be low on the list of priorities.....
FACEBOOK -- I put a lot of messages out to my Facebook friends, and I think these were reasonably effective in encouraging downloads. The good thing about Facebook is that you can post longish messages and include images and hyperlinks. There can also be an exponential effect if lots of your friends "share" your messages and move them on through their own networks. I have less than 100 friends, and don't particularly want many more. But there were lots of supportive and encouraging comments, lots of "shares", and lots of "likes" -- and when you are slogging away on a campaign of this sort it's great to feel that your nearest and dearest are cheering you on! More to do with psychology than economy, but there you go........
TWITTER -- This was far and away the most effective of the social media which I used. During the course of my 5-day campaign I probably sent out about 350 tweets. Purely by chance, that's about one tweet per 100 downloads. I don't think that the correlation is in any way reliable, but there must be SOME relationship. You can look at all my tweets here:
I devised lots of different messages -- all within the 140 character limit -- designed to reach different constituencies -- other writers, book clubs, book publishers, TV celebrities, friends and acquaintances, film stars, sportsmen, eccentrics, Welsh people, ex-pats in America, Pembrokeshire people, media sites, BBC reporters, Jane Austen fans, historical fiction readers, history sites etc etc. If you go down through my tweets, you will see the general idea. Sometimes you need to follow people if you want them to follow you. Often I asked for retweets -- not always, because that is bad practice. Of those I asked to do retweets for me, maybe 10% actually did what I asked and sent my message on. I hoped that Stephen Fry (the ace tweeter) would retweet for me, on the basis that I would then miraculously reach more than 4 million of his followers, with a sort of personal endorsement from him -- but in spite of frequent efforts on my part, he declined to cooperate!
One technique which worked quite well for me was to target a person whom I respected -- and then to target those on his or her list of "following". Those on the list are, you can assume, either acquaintances or friends, or people whom they in turn admire or respect. Far better than going to lists of "followers", who may number many thousands, and who will in all probability not be in the slightest bit interested in YOUR book.......
Use hashtag links like these in your tweets: #FreeKindleBooks #freeforkindle or just #Kindle. A lot of people use these while searching for jolly free books to download and read.
What I discovered is that the Twitterati are in general very friendly and supportive -- and I received many messages from completely unknown people (and some who are very famous indeed), wishing me well, saying they had retweeted my 140 characters, and saying they had downloaded my book.
I know that there can be some pretty bad-natured and rude twittering on contentious issues (such as GM wheat trials!) but on this issue -- an author promoting a book for Kindle -- I really felt that there is a supportive community out there, with nobody feeling threatened of feeling that you are a competitor, taking potential sales away from him or her. In a sense, we are all competing for business -- but I genuinely did feel, during this exercise, that everybody wants everybody else to succeed, and that everybody (rather, everybody who can be bothered!) wants to help somebody who is working hard and has a good product.....
That brings me to my last point. The PRODUCT clearly has to be worth downloading, if people are going to get it for their Kindle readers. The book needs a good bright and punchy cover which looks good at large size and as a thumbnail. Take the Amazon advice on this!! The book needs to be well written and appealing to at least one group of readers. A good track record helps -- in my case, "On Angel Mountain" has been around for more than ten years now, and has racked up sales in excess of 26,000. So quite a lot of people know about the book already -- and I can twitter about its past success. Your product description is very important too -- I am sure that is one of the things that encourages people to make a download.
AND THE RESULT?
Early days yet. There may be some negative effects from a campaign like this -- for example, there will be some who are thoroughly pissed off with you for sending them an unsolicited endless string of tweets! But tweets are very ephemeral -- they are noticeable for a few minutes on your Twitter page, and then they are gone, replaced by more recent messages. In the case of the really famous and popular twitterers, your tweet (or even twenty of them) may not even be noticed, let alone responded to. But do you target those tweeters who have thousands of followers, or those who have just a few? Arguably, it might be more cost-effective to target somebody with 200 followers than somebody who has 200,000. So forget about Lady Gaga! She clearly has no time to read anything. And another negative is that you could have been sitting in the shade, reading a good book, rather than slaving over a hot keyboard -- or maybe devoting time to writing another book -- or maybe spending more time out on the road, shifting the paperback version.............
But by and large, I feel quite empowered and encouraged, having gone through this week of very hard work. I have had a huge amount of support in Facebook and Twitter comments, and the fact that 3,604 people have gone to the trouble of downloading the book does give me a nice rosy glow. I don't feel that I have "lost" any sales at all, or that I have demeaned myself in any way -- and I am optimistic enough to think that a small proportion (maybe a big proportion) of those who now read the book will actually like it, fall in love with Mistress Martha, and want to know what happens in Book 2 of the Saga.
Before I did this promotion, I had earned royalties from Amazon of about £90 on my titles available through KDP Select (eight titles, including the 5 novels uploaded in February - April this year). Not exactly spectacular sales figures! But in the last day (since the end of the campaign) I have seen 156 copies of the novels sold. So something is happening -- and I am now increasingly confident that as people read their downloaded copies of "On Angel Mountain" -- and like the story -- those sales will continue to go steadily upwards over the coming weeks and months. Eternal optimist? You bet!!
AND MY ADVICE?
For what it's worth, and bearing in mind that I am a complete novice in this business -- here it is:
1. Do it!
2. Follow Amazon's advice with regard to a good jacket, a good descriptive blurb and a good presence on the Amazon web site. Get good reviews posted onto the site if you can. (That's something I have not worked hard enough on -- my readers are just too laid back to bother.
3. Demonstrate a good track record in earlier sales if you can. (In other words, try out a book in the market place before you put it on Kindle. I suspect that many people just write something, bang it onto Kindle, and hope that a miracle will happen..... that should lead to dismal failure, but of course, as we all know, sometimes things DO happen, right out of the blue.)
4. Use the full five days which Amazon allows you, all in one go. It takes time for a title to build up momentum, and if you have invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears in promotion work, you might as well reap the benefit.)
5. Twitter and tweet and chirp for all you are worth -- and learn from the way that other successful writers use this particular social medium.
6. If you are in the UK, don't bother tweeting messages to people who have .com in their web sites or blog addresses when the USA is fast asleep. By the time they wake up in the morning, your tweets will have got lost in the clutter.
6. Preferably, include a weekend in your five days -- I think a lot of people do their Kindle free downloads during their days off work.
7. Look at the long-range weather forecast and try to choose a period when the weather is windy and rainy! During my 5-day promo, the weather was generally far too good, and I noticed that there was an inverse relationship between the weather outside and the level of downloads. On the hottest and most beautiful day the hour-by-hour download rate dropped quite dramatically (that was true for all the books in the "Top 100" list) and then it rose again in the evening, when it got cooler. Would I have had a much more successful kindle Freebie Promo had I chosen horrible 5 days in February? I really don't know.......
8. Take the advice of the experts. There are some people out there who have sold millions of Kindle book downloads, and who are now seriously wealthy as a result. Some of them are very happy to exchange Email or Twitter messages with you, and they are very generous with their advice. Some of them have very informative blogs and web sites.
9. Monitor your download figures carefully and regularly. They may mystify you -- but they may also encourage you to modify your promotional strategy as you go along.
10. Do it! And have fun!