This summer, the lovely women who run Fire and Ice Young Adult Books and I decided to try a little experiment with my book Passing Notes by lowering the price (again) and then making it free for a short while. Because I have a weird desire to write frankly about all the successes and foibles of my writing career on this blog, I want to share with you how that experiment went.
To begin with, I am part of a group on Facebook full of Indie authors (mostly self-published) who are very open about sharing their promotion ideas. Overwhelmingly, they (and pretty much every indie-pub’d author I’ve met) do very well with having the first book of their series permanently free. It hooks in readers, and those readers go on to purchase the rest of the books. Some try offering their work free for a short while and then go back up to 99 cents for a bit before returning to full price, which is never more than $5.00.
I have three YA books out. Two are part of a series and the third is a novella. I asked the group and lots of other people in the biz if it would be better to make Cry of the Sea (the first of the Juniper Sawfeather Novels) free with the hopes of getting people interested in purchasing Whisper of the Woods, the sequel, or would it be better to give away my little novella, Passing Notes, as a sample of my writing and simply discount the other books for a bit. Overwhelmingly, the response was to give Passing Notes away. People would love it and go on to purchase my other work.
I am not self-published, though, so I can’t change the prices of my books willy-nilly. I have to ask for that favor, knowing that my publishers have to be willing to not make any money either. Well, Passing Notes hasn’t exactly been flying off the digital book shelves, so we agreed to try it. At the very least, it would get the book some attention.
First, we lowered the price at Kindle to 99 cents and free everywhere else. Then we waited for Amazon to get on board and “price match” to free, because they don’t get any money for free books either. For that first half month, at the lowered price (literally $1.00 lower than it was before), it sold 5 copies at Amazon. *I will point out here that I don’t have data as to how many units were downloaded from Smashwords, Nook, or iTunes during this time.
Finally, mid-June, Passing Notes went free. It immediately rose to the top ten of its category “90-minute Young Adult Fiction – Free”. I had a couple free and two paid promotions that weekend. (And I was soooooooo thankful the price dropped in time. I was very anxious about it, actually.) The promotions really helped, especially the one from Fussy Librarian on June 18th. The couple days that followed had my biggest downloads of over 300 units in a day and brought Passing Notes up to #1 Bestseller in its category. It stayed within the top 12 for the remainder of the time it was free, but it never got higher than 5 again even with the extra promos I did with smaller companies.
I had to promote the deal regularly on my own social media pages. So I didn’t get too boring, I made a lot of different fliers about it. You’re seeing some of them in this post. Come July, it was time to start charging again. I did a last chance flier that I posted everywhere, and I got a lot of last minute hits. Like before, it took Amazon a minute to change the price. We only went back up to 99 cents, and we probably should keep it there.
The experiment was to find out a couple things:
1. If the book was free, would people want it? The answer was yes. On Kindle alone we “sold” 1,095 copies of Passing Notes over that 3-week period. It’s not a runaway success, but I’m happy with it.
2. If the book was free, would it lead to sales of my other books? The answer was no. I didn’t see any uptick at all in sales of Cry of the Sea, Whisper of the Woods, or the new romance anthology Second Chance for Love, even though all of those books have been discounted all summer.
3. If the book was free, would I get more reviews? The answer was a marginal yes. I did get three new reviews on Amazon and two on Goodreads. I expect I’ll receive more as people get around to reading it. I got about 50 or more people added to the story’s Goodreads “to-read” list. On top of that, I had a few nice mentions on Facebook from people telling me that they liked it or recommended it for someone they knew.
4. If the book was free for a short while, would the momentum continue after the book was not free anymore but only cost a dollar? The answer is no.
“Free” is the allure. Some people clearly only want free books, and they are not interested in paying for them. I think this is also why this giveaway didn’t lead to sales of my other titles. The vast majority of people who downloaded Passing Notes were probably not interested in paying for any books – ever. If you don’t mind reading indie and self-published books, you can read very happily for a very long time without ever having to pay a dime. It doesn’t bother me. It’s not unlike people who only get their books from libraries. The only difference for authors is that at least that copy was sold to that library at one point.
What to do now? Well, my publisher and I talked about some new ideas for Passing Notes. Perhaps a change to the cover design? Perhaps a revision to make the story longer? I like it the way it is, and my reviewers do too, so this is a tough one for me. My other idea is to add a couple more paranormal novellas to make it a bigger book. It’s an on-going trial and error to see what might catch the eyes of potential readers.
In the meantime, all of my books published under the Melange Books umbrella are discounted for the summer. I don’t know that the sale will last into August, so if you are at all interested in reading any of my books for cheap, this is the time. And if all of these fliers about Passing Notes didn’t tell you enough about the book, you can learn more, read an excerpt, see some reviews, and find buy links here: www.dgdriver.com/passing-notes.html
I welcome your comments, your ideas, and your stories below.
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.