Saturday, February 23, 2013

Power of Free: A Continuing Debate

In a sea of freebies available through from authors through Amazon KDP Select and online sites that curate the listings of available free e-books for their visitors, it's becoming increasingly difficult for authors to leverage the power of giveaways. How can we, rather our titles, stand out?

In almost three years of of self-publishing, I've offered a few freebies to grow an audience and encourage readership, and discussed the pros and cons HERE and HERE. The latest is for Sultana on the two-year anniversary of its publication via four channels; Amazon.com, Kobo, iTunes and Smashwords. This giveaway ends in five days, so get a copy before the offer expires. The goal is to boost interest in the series leading up to the third book, which comes out later this year. Since February 10, there have been 19,012 downloads of the title on Amazon, 2,319 on iTunes and maybe 120 via Smashwords; haven't paid as much attention to the latter. Kobo doesn't provide information on freebies downloaded, but the total tally is around 21,451 downloads in almost two weeks. I view this figure in a variety of ways; some will like the title and want more, or never read it, or just added another free book to their growing list. It's 21.5K people I didn't influence before the title was free.

If you're considering offering freebies, be prepared for the following:
  • You won't be entirely able to control pricing updates, particularly if you're not enrolled in KDP Select or channels where you can easily edit the price. 
  • You can't control when or if Amazon decides to price match, based on a  freebie offered elsewhere. Outside of KDP Select, experience suggests it takes up to a week for Amazon to offer a title for free and up to two weeks to revert to the original price. Why do you care if Amazon price matches? Because they have the most impact in the e-book market. For now.  
  • You can't assume freebies will gain you additional reviews or sales of your other books; mine typically do, especially last year at this time when I offered Sultana for free and saw the boost in sales of Sultana's Legacy. Not so much now. Experience suggests going free works best when you have a series; I would never suggest it to an author who has only one book available, and slightly on par, if you write stand-alone books. 
  • You must accept that some people hoard free books which they will (1) never read (2) never review  (3) trash with one-star reviews because it's not a genre they normally read (4) truly, only downloaded the title because it was free.  
So, what can you control?      

It still starts with the book. If you've written and edited the best book you could, you've laid the groundwork for lots of interest in your freebie. It might surprise you to know, but I think Sultana's Legacy is the stronger of the initial books in my series; Sultana sets up the relationships and conflicts to come, but the consequences that follow in the sequel make it richer and more poignant. But it's not one readers automatically gravitate to after they've read the first book. Interesting, but what do I know? I'm just the writer.

What happens if you haven't produced your best work? Be prepared for those one-star reviews. No amount of planning and promotion is going to help you if everyone thinks the book is a dud. Remember, you can lessen scathing comments by offering up your best work. Mistakes happen, which most except the truly unforgiving trolls will overlook in favor of a good story. Don't feed the trolls by giving them a half-baked book they can devour and spit back at you.  

Setting up distribution channels. You can determine when to make a book available for free via certain channels. For authors still enrolled in KDP Select, one of the benefits is having the power of free at your fingertips are at least for five days in your KDP dashboard. What about the rest of us?

Since removing my titles from KDP Select, this has meant relying on making a title free through Smashwords and its distribution channels. An action that more often than not led to wasted time, tremendous effort and nightmares in general, as certain channels took forever to alter the pricing. In the meanwhile, I'm sitting on my hands waiting for Amazon to price match - here's how it happened this time. I set the title free on Feb. 10. Sales during the week boosted it to the top 100 on Kindle in the Biographical category. Just as it's taking off, Amazon price matched. Figures.

Did you know that if you make your book available directly through Kobo, you can set the price as zero? You do now. Even better, there's now Draft2Digital, which lets you upload a title and distribute via Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo and Amazon (I haven't verified the latter due to my direct uploading to KDP). Even better, using Draft2Digital, you can alter your price to free AND see the number of downloads. Draft2Digital is still in its infancy and doesn't have access (as yet) to Sony, Diesel, Page Foundry, Axis 360 or Blio as Smashwords does. If you're like me and selling next to nothing on these sites, it may not matter. What does, if your title is going free or reverting to the normal price, is the ability to edit and see a change reflected in a business day. Keep an eye on Draft2Digital.  

Planning promotion. Another area you can influence is the number of sites that feature and promote your freebie. You aren't planning to do it all via your website, blog, social media outlets and newsletter, right? Word-of-mouth is key in building momentum for your freebie, especially when you want your title to stand out among the rest. The good news is that most if not all of these sites have Twitter and Facebook accounts that will gain your title more exposure. Experience shows there are tons more sites that will feature your title if it's free on Amazon than any other distribution channel AND there are many that expect you to pay for promoting your free title.

Yup, you read that right - expect to pay something to promote your free title. Seems strange to pay someone to promote what you're giving away, doesn't it? Doesn't mean you have to do it. Your title just won't be featured of those sites that ask for payment. The largest are E-Reader News Today (ENT) and Pixel of Ink (PoI), but BookBub is growing. So are their prices. BookBub did a free spotlight for me so I could test drive their abilities. Otherwise, I wouldn't necessarily want to pay a couple hundred to promote. I'm keeping an eye on them though.

These sites often operate as affiliates and earn commissions off of the traffic they deliver to the online retailers. Most affiliate sites book slots early and often. Here are a few you can approach that have little to no cost associated with featuring a freebie. Also, they don't just highlight Kindle titles.

AddictedtoEbooks.com: free titles on Kindle, but with links to distribution channels at Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo and Smashwords
AskDavid.com:  free titles on Kindle
Epubdeals.com: free and bargain titles on Kobo
Ereaderperks.com: free titles on Kindle, Kobo and Nook
Trindiebooks.com: free titles on Kobo

Some sites indicate they don't take erotica. The two that I found, Free Erotica and Spicy Romance are either defunct or closed for submissions.

Interestingly, Amazon fired off an email to these sites and others participating in its Amazon Associates program that suggests sites which heavily promote freebies will see negative consequences. This might mean those sites would have less ads featuring freebies and more paid books, AND increase the likelihood of authors paying to promote. Personally, I like the latter scenario better than paying to promote a freebie. Author David Gaughran dissects the email in part HERE.

The debate remains whether free is a viable strategy for growing readership. As I've outlined above, there are ways to make it profitable but no guarantees. The takeaway from this post should be about the planning; (1) write a great book worth reading, (2) schedule distribution via channels where you can control the pricing and (3) promote the title as much as you can, through paid and free means. Your mileage may vary, but those three factors within your control will help you expand your reach as an author.      

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Guest Post: Love Request by Tara Chevrestt


Today, I’m so delighted to welcome a guest post from author Tara Chevrestt.

Book Release, Kindle Freebie, & Grand Giveaway!
Love Request /Tara Chevrestt
I’m pleased to share with you my latest release, Love Request. This one is special to me because it’s not only the first romance I penned, but it features a “hearing-impaired” heroine, like myself.
I say “hearing –impaired” because really, there’s nothing wrong with Ciara. She’s not damaged or in need of repair. She just can’t hear as well as others.

As a reader, I grew tired of all the women in romance novels being perfect. In real life, many of us have disabilities—and they are disabilities others can’t see. And worse, they are disabilities others can’t understand, and a lot of times what people don’t understand becomes something they fear…and belittle.

This is where the bullying comes in. You see, this is more than just a romance novel. Open its pages, hit that Kindle “next page” button, and find out for yourself. Learn. Be enlightened. Relate.

Want to sample it first? No problem. Available on Kindle and FREE for the next five days, is a humorous Valentine short story, Mating Instinct.

You’ll find the first chapter of Love Request at the end.

Thank you, readers, for celebrating this special time with me. Happy Valentine’s Day! In honor of you, I’m giving away a print copy of Love Request, a plush dog, a lipstick for that special date, and 5 pheromone-soaked chocolate incense sticks! WARNING: Be careful if dogs are in the vicinity.

Blurb:
When Ciara Littleton finally joins Facebook to socialize without the limits her hearing impairment gives her, she looks up a childhood friend on a whim. In sending him that first message, she ignites the memories of a crush from twenty years ago. Can a simple friend request fix all that stands between them and maybe even lead to something more?

Hunter's plate is full. A recent divorce, a pregnant sister, and now, he realizes he's in love with a woman who lives states away. Can he overcome the boundaries of Internet romance to make this desire turn into something real, or will adversity and distance be their undoing?

This book was formerly titled A Facebook Affair and has been revised with a new ending.
Love Request has been named a LASR Best Book and is now up for vote on Best Book of 2012 Poll. You can cast a vote here. I’m so excited and so grateful!

Blurb for Mating Instinct:
This is exactly what you need!
It’s Valentine’s Day and when Ariel receives a package of incense in the mail from her Pagan friend and mentor, she isn’t sure what to make of the enclosed note. Sure, she has some issues, but who doesn’t?
When the smoke releases its magic, Ariel gets an evening of surprise humor and romance, and it is indeed exactly what she needs.

Links:

Tara Chevrestt is a deaf woman, former aviation mechanic, writer, and an editor. She is most passionate about planes, motorcycles, dogs, and above all, reading. That led to her love of writing. Between her writing and her editing, which allows her to be home with her little canine kids, she believes she has the greatest job in the world. She is very happily married.
Her theme is Strong is Sexy. She shares a website with her naughty pen name: http://tarachevrestt.weebly.com/index.html and they have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tara-Chevrestt-Sonia-Hightower/218383211513877.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chasing an elusive past to make up the perfect story

Since deciding on the future of the Sultana series and realizing I wanted to write about the last family to rule Moorish Spain from beginning to end, I needed to bridge a huge gap between the events of the first to the last book. Sultana: Two Sisters came out of that necessity, as it picks up with the grandson of my protagonists in Sultana and Sultana's Legacy and focuses on the influence of his two wives in the history of Muslim Spain. While researching the historical figures, I came across the most perfect story line for the follow-up. Only someone who writes about the past can understand this serendipitous moment; the confluence of full-blown details from verified sources and an author's desire for a compelling plot. OMG! It's like getting the best birthday-anniversary-holiday present ever! Or, maybe that's just my take on it.

Without giving too much away about the events that unfold in Two Sisters, during the reign of Yusuf I of Granada, his younger brother Ismail allegedly had his eye on the throne. The extent of Yusuf's mercy meant Ismail and his small family, including young children, went to jail. At least they weren't beheaded. Trust me, the Nasrid family were not the most forgiving bunch. Years later, when Yusuf's son Muhammad gained the throne, he sealed the family breach by marrying his first cousin, Ismail's daughter. And they lived happily ever after! Right? Trust me, I wouldn't be excited about this new novel if they had. As if an arranged marriage between this pair wasn't enough, there were also enemies within Granada plotting to take Muhammad's crown and Spanish Catholics encroaching daily on an ever-shrinking Moorish kingdom.  

In outlining the new work, I'm considering several aspects of the history. Within a marriage of convenience, can two people who have no reason to trust each other learn to do so? How do the sins of their respective fathers influence the relationship that develops? Where would the loyalty of Muhammad's new wife lie, with an embittered father or a husband who looks at her with more suspicion than lust? This particular story has it all - intrigue, murder, a bloody coup, and I suppose some "harem sex" - hope that will keep my recent blog visitors who seem to like searching those keywords happy.

What doesn't the story have?

I've struggled with a name, for starters. After weeks of searching for historical fiction titles online, some variations appeal like, "Sultana: A Heart Divided", "Sultana: The Summer Queen" or "Sultana: The Bride Price" - ETA: my good friend Anita helped me decide on the latter. It shouldn't surprise you how much thought I give to the title of a book. For instance, Sultana's Legacy reflects the somewhat tarnished but noble heritage it's heroine Fatima and her family leave to the next generation of the Nasrids. Sultana: Two Sisters pertains to  the strong bond of friendship and a secret, shared heritage between two future rivals.

While I know some intimate details about the main character, her marriage to Muhammad and how his dynastic troubles put her life and their infant son at risk, etc., guess what I don't know? Her @#$%^&* name. I am an obsessive researcher when it comes to writing about the Moorish period and even if every fact does not make it into the finished novel, at least the names, dates and historical events are accurate. Imagine how annoying it must be not to have one source mention this woman's name. So, what do I do? In the grand tradition of writers of fiction everywhere, I'll just have to make it up.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A writer's path: trusting the journey

The new year has begun for me with a lot of soul-searching about the path of  my writing: where should the journey take readers? Would it surprise you you to know I'm not a natural storyteller and it takes inspiration, long months of research, relentless pursuit of elusive details, extraordinary patience and commitment to go from Chapter One to The End? Even if it starts with me or my interests, immersing readers in the past through the characters' perspective is the goal. Left to my own fascination, that would take them through a meandering road through the Dark Ages to the Renaissance, and the centuries in between.
Is that so bad?
Not really, except readers would never know what to expect from the next title. Fine, if the act of writing satisfied only me, but stories are supposed to be shared. Writing historical fiction has never been a self-indulgent endeavor. Sharing a fascination for certain historical figures and settings with readers is important to me. Whether the setting is Moorish Spain, or the castles of England and France, the period is always medieval. Since junior high school it's been my favorite, fires my imagination, and stirs creativity. Fiction in Europe's medieval era will always be my focus.

This forces an end to my plans to write about fifth-century India in The Rule of Love and Barbary Coast pirates in Renegade. Lost countless hours in the research (and part of each manuscript themselves - another story) but I had fun while it lasted! As much as dumping any half-finished manuscript isn't also a happy occasion, it brings some clarity on the road to capturing readers' imaginations. This means working two more books in the Sultana series than previously imagined (there will be six total by 2015), with Sultana: Two Sisters coming out this year swiftly followed by another (a post later this week looks at getting lost in the details of writing this one, plus the headache of coming up with a title!) before I delve into the next series on Dracula's father and brothers.
Ahh! There it is - the path to clarity
 The biggest lesson learned from all this soul-searching is learning to trust the journey, where getting lost can be part of the discovery as much as twists and turns. I hope readers will enjoy it too.  

Thank you for seven great years

Today I looked at the newly revised ebook reports in Amazon KDP, to check out the enhancements made, including lifetime sales history. Sinc...