On Giving Away My Books for Free

btown trilogy halfpage ad front b2

First of all:  If you’re here visiting for the first time after downloading any of the books in the Bridgetown Trilogy from Smashwords during its July book sale, hello and thank you!  I’m thrilled that you wanted to check my books out!  I hope you enjoy them!  And by all means, if you like them, please post a review on GoodReads!  That will make this writer very happy indeed. 😀

SO!  I’m sure some of you out there are wondering…why did this weirdo, who spent far too many years writing this damn trilogy, give it away in e-book form for free a few years after he FINALLY released it?

Good question indeed.  I have a few answers for you:

  1. Some time ago I put A Division of Souls up for free and kept it free, as a way to bring people into the Mendaihu Universe.  This by far has been my most regular seller, for obvious reasons.  It’s the enticement product.  It’s the register endcap.  It’s the book that says ‘hey, check this out’ and ‘if you like this, there’s two more sequels’.  I regularly get at least a few downloads a month for this one.
  2. The Persistence of Memories and The Balance of Light are at an already reasonably low price of $2.99 each.  I think of this as an analogue to mid-price cds you find at record stores…back catalog titles that are no longer consistent sellers, but are consistently available at an affordable price.  Again, this is part of the ‘long game’ process, and it’s actually worked to my expectations.  I might not get a big payout, but I’ll get at least one or two purchases every month or so.
  3. The sale is only for one month, and I know there are readers out there who, like me, get involved in a series and want to either buy the entire thing in one go, or at least be able to find and download them easily.  And everyone loves free things, right?
  4. It introduces new readers to my work.  Though I only got a few purchases since it was released, I did get a bit of interest in Meet the Lidwells, with a few sample downloads.  That right there is a learning experience; perhaps it’s that they weren’t interested in the story I had to say there, or perhaps the formatting wasn’t to their liking, or maybe it’s just not a book that many are interested in.  I’m okay with that; it’s not a science fiction novel, but a straight fiction novel in the format of a music biography.  It’s up to me to work on new promotional avenues for that one.

I haven’t yet looked at the stats for July as a whole, but from the email notifications I’ve received, between all three books I’ve gotten a good few dozen downloads and even more sample downloads.  Not bad at all.

In the meantime, I’ve put the url for this blog both on the books and on the freebie cards I’ve made.  [That’s the front of the freebie card for the trilogy above.]  I’ve been doing my best keeping this particular blog on a timely and expected schedule — and crossposted to Twitter and Facebook at that — and that has helped me gain new readers as well.  I spread out my freebie cards at all the conventions I’ve gone to as well.  All in all, from what little I’ve done so far for promotion, I’ve gotten a hell of a lot more response than I ever thought I would, so that’s saying something.  I can only imagine what the response would be once I restart the email list and start upping my promotion game!

So yeah, I’d say even though I didn’t earn a single penny this month, I got a lot of new readers, and I think that’s pretty damn cool.

Putting On a Show in the Barn, Or: Adventures in Figuring Out How to Self-Promote

rooney garland
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in Babes in Arms (1939)

How the hell do you self-promote your self-published book, anyway?  That’s a damn good question, because I’ve heard so many different and varying (and often conflicting) answers that I sometimes wonder if anyone knows at all.

So I’m doing a bit of everything, to be honest.  I’ve created flyers for the trilogy.  I’ve posted hither and yon on social media.  I’ve sent copies to various websites like BookLife, NoiseTrade, and so on.  I’ve posted to GoodReads.  I’ve submitted to legitimate novel writing contests.  I’ve created a mailing list.  I’ve promoted myself at cons.  I’ve read a lot of different blogs and listened to various podcasts.  I’ve done a lot of it in one way or another, to varying degrees of success.

This isn’t to say no one knows what they’re doing, far from it; it’s that there’s a hell of a lot of different ways to do it, and they’re doing what works for them.

When I uploaded A Division of Souls as a pay-what-you-want e-book on NoiseTrade a few years ago, I didn’t get much money out of it, but I certain got a hell of a lot of downloads, over 250 of them.  And even though I haven’t done any major promotion on the trilogy for quite some time, I’ll still get the occasional download hit either on Amazon or on Smashwords.  [Those might be few and far between, but they still put a smile on my face when I get an unexpected payment!]

Right now I’m planning out how to self-promote Meet the Lidwells!, and this time out I’m thinking of being a bit creative with it.  I’ll reach out to the websites I tried before, with a focus on music-related blogs and sites (such as NoiseTrade) as well as any other bloggers who might be interested in doing a review.  I’m also thinking of doing some minor advertising in some of the writing magazines I read as well — maybe a one-column thumbnail ad or something.  The book will drop later this month, so I’ve got to work on getting all this out pretty soon!

If I’ve learned anything over the past three years that I’ve been self-publishing, it’s that this field truly is all about the DIY, where the long-established rules don’t always apply.  Sometimes your attempts at self-promotion will fall flat, other times it’ll catch on and grow far beyond your expectations.  There’s a lot at play here:  the kind of book you’ve written, the people and businesses you interact with, the people you’ve hired for production work, right down to the price you decide to give it.  And you can do exactly what professional self-publishers (such as David Gaughran or Joel Friedlander) suggest, and it might work for you, or it might not.  It really is a bit of a gamble each and every time.

It’s a learning experience every time I release a book.  In a way, it’s like the classic Babes in Arms trope: ‘Let’s put on a show in the barn!’  You’re out to show that you can do it, and that you want your audience to enjoy it, but you’re really not sure if it’ll work unless you actually do it.  But regardless, the payoff is still worth it.

 

Going Public: Conventions

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Note: don’t forget to breathe. Also: don’t tilt your head down like I did, unless you’re fine with showing off your extra chins.

So!  My first official convention as an author rather than a fan went well, all told!  FOGcon was a very good place to start, as it’s a relatively small convention attendance-wise, so I didn’t feel overwhelmed by standing up in front of any large crowds.

A few things I learned:

–Dress for the occasion. What I wore is actually pretty conservative for a typical SF/F con, but my Diesel Sweeties ‘Almost There’ shirt went over well with a lot of people, including one of the hotel bartenders!

–Keep well hydrated, especially if you’re doing a reading.  There’s a bottle of water hiding behind my book in that picture there, which came in handy.

–You will always end up reading faster than you think; remember to slow..it..down.  I forgot this and zipped along at quite a pace, according to Amanda.

–Noted: remember to say what you’re reading and give it a bit of a preface.  Due to my nerves I’d completely forgotten to do so.  D’OH.  Thankfully I had my book front and center, so I’m sure most in the room understood that’s what I was reading from.

–Reading in small rooms means you don’t have to shout; however, it’s also good to remember to enunciate and project regardless.  Try to remember to keep your chin up when reading; tilting your head down tends to muffle a person’s voice a bit.  [Yup, sort of failed here too.  Didn’t think about it until about halfway through.]

–Important:  even though I made those couple of mistakes?  I’m far from a failure.  I read my piece and got a positive response, and that’s all that really matters.

–With some conventions (like this one), you’re not doing readings alone.  This works well on multiple levels: you can choose to go last if you need that extra bit of self-preparation; you’re not up front and completely on your own; that little bit of camaraderie between authors before the panel starts really does help calm you down; and if someone in the audience is there to see their friend read, they’ll be there to hear you as well.  This last bit nicely quashes any worries that you’ll read to an empty room!

–Some are picky about it, but really, don’t worry about it:  if you want to put your book up for all to see, by all means, go for it.  I stood mine up and kept a few of my flyers next to it.  As long as you’re not doing the Shameless Salesman thing every other sentence.

–On a completely random note:  About halfway through the day, it suddenly occurred to me that, since I was now a panelist, I’d leveled up and could now visit the Con Suite if I wanted.  [I didn’t, but con suites (aka the green rooms) are quite excellent for unplugging from crowds and refueling with snacks if needed!]

 

And as for being on panels where you chat about a subject instead of reading?  I’d say that by far was the least stressful thing this weekend.  I was part of a panel about Self-Publishing and Marketing Strategies with three other people of varying levels of success.  [I lightened the mood by introducing myself as being a total DIY writer who’s using the Indiana Jones method of marketing strategy: “I dunno, I’m just making it up as I go along.”  That got a chuckle from the room, as I’d hoped!]  Again: talk with your other panelists before the show starts, get to know them a little and gauge how they’ll perform and what points they might hit, so you can adjust your delivery accordingly.  Keep a bottle of water nearby.  Again, no need for shameless self-promotion, but if you use your book as a prop in the point you’re trying to make, that’s fine.  [I spoke a little about visibility of covers, pointing out how I deliberately used certain colors to make them stand out.]

Granted, I lucked out in that I’m fine with speaking with large groups.  I’m always a little nervous about being the center of attention, but I pushed past that the best I could.  As the panel went on, I became more comfortable talking with both the panelists and with the audience — it felt less like putting on a performance and more like having a fun and super geeky conversation with a bunch of other like-minded people.

Will I do it again?

Hell yes!! 🙂

On Public Speaking

nervous-anime

Thankfully, I’m a bit prepared for it.  I say a bit, because I’m talking about the Voice and Articulation and Public Speaking classes I had to take at Emerson College — twenty-plus years ago.  I know how to project my voice when need be (and I’ll admit I don’t do it nearly as much as I should when we’re in loud and crowded places).  I know how to lift the tone of my voice just a tad so it’s clear and not a droning mumble.  And I’m comfortable talking in front of a crowd.

But man, I’ll be honest right now — when I do that reading and that panel at FOGcon in early March, I’m gonna be a bit nervous anyway, because I’m not just talking about writing or reading my novel.  I’m trying to sell the damn thing.  And I am TOTALLY a n00b at that.

Still, I gotta start somewhere, right?

I’ve of course been given the suggestion that I should record myself reading to hear how I sound, but I’m my own worst critic when I do that.  I hate hearing myself talk on tape.  [I can deal with my own singing, but that’s a different avenue entirely.]  I’d be more inclined to prepare myself for talking in front of a crowd by making sure I know what I’m going to say (or read).  I rarely prepare for this sort of thing; I’m someone who feels more comfortable winging it when the time comes.  My preparation for the reading won’t be how I sound but on the pacing and the time it takes.  And I’m already thinking about points I’d like to make on the panel I’ll be on.

I’ve still got a few weeks to prepare for this, so I’m sure my nerves will be calm by then.  Hopefully…!

On Self-Publishing: Doing the Backstage Work – Self-Publicity in Social Media

This may or may not be how I enter Spare Oom.
This may or may not be what happens when I enter Spare Oom.

I’ve said it before, I suck at sales.  Or more to the point, I suck at it if I’m to sell something I don’t have much interest in. Furniture? A new car? Real estate? Monster truck rallies? Yeah, they’re fine and all, but if I’m not truly excited about them, I doubt I could talk you into into them.  On the other hand, I will shamlessly foist upon you the latest album I think is absolutely brilliant [This week: Tamaryn’s Cranekiss is pretty high up there], or a book I’d recently read and want everyone else to read as well [Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, which totally did deserve that Hugo].

But what about my own work?  Well, I’ll be honest, this is the first time I’m doing this at a professional level.  I’ve proudly shown off artwork and photography on my Tumblr and elsewhere, but my writing?  Totally new to me.  I don’t even have a solid and mapped-out ‘business model’ — in fact, I twitch whenever I hear business-speak like that.  Like my writing, I’m definitely a pantser.  I go with what works for me.

And lately, that’s taken all kinds of odd and unexpected avenues.  I’ll see other writers taking steps in social media and elsewhere, and I’ll think about whether it would work for me.  More to the point, I think of it this way:  if this particular kind of self-promotion got me to take a look at the product, even if for just a few moments, then maybe it’s a style I could try out myself.

Promoting yourself using social media is tricky, because there’s an extremely thin line between promoting yourself and just spamming your friends’ feeds. You don’t want to oversaturate yourself; the more annoyingly prevalent the advertisement, the more people are just going to skim over it, or worse, muting or unfollowing you.

Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.
Yeah, this might be overdoing it a bit.

On Twitter, there are a few ways you can circumvent that.  One is to mention it in your profile.  Another is to use a Pinned tweet.  You can create your own little mini-ad in just 140 characters.  Mine says the following:

A Division of Souls, coming 9/3/15!
All formats available at Smashwords!
[Smashwords link, plus embedded cover]

A blipvert of sorts, one you’ll see immediately if you happen to visit my personal Twitter page because it’s pinned up at the top.  I’ve only had it up for 3 days, but I’ve already made 156 impressions as of today.  That’s not too bad for starters. Nowhere near the thousands of hits some writers get, but hey, it’s pretty good for someone brand spanking new to this gig.  And note that I made sure to mention that all formats are available at Smashwords.  This will ensure that anyone, regardless of which e-reader they use, can come on over and download it.

You’d probably want to follow suit on other social media channels as well.  It’s visible, but it’s not obtrusive, and that’s the balance you want to strive for.  I’ve seen others do daily tweet ads, which is fine, because they only do it once a day.

Another Twitter idea, one I just saw someone else use this morning, is kind of a neat twist on the “shop local” idea.  There are many brick-and-mortar bookstores out there who work alongside Kobo to sell ebooks at their website, and this writer had come up with a brilliant idea:  publicize the book and the local store at the same time!  She aimed the tweet at the San Francisco area, mentioned her book was available at this store (complete with link), and made sure to mention the store using their Twitter handle, including the “@”.  That last part was genius: you’re not only getting others to check out the store’s twitter feed, you’re getting whoever is manning that store’s feed will see it as well, and may end up retweeting you.  I followed suit sometime after, mentioning Books Inc and Green Apple Books, two of my favorite local book shops.  I was duly retweeted!  Wins all around!

If anything, I’ve heard all kinds of responses to the question of how to self-promote on social media.  Some swear by tweetstorms, others by following anyone and everyone who uses the #amwriting hashtag, others still by picking and choosing when and where to insinuate your promotion.  Overall, though, the most common response I’ve heard is, go with what works for you.  Be creative and have fun with it!  But most importantly, remember to keep it balanced!