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.

On DIY: More on the Long Game

doctor who brilliant jw
I feel the same way when I get a Smashwords Purchase Notification in my Inbox.

It’s been a little over a year since I released The Balance of Light, the third book in the Bridgetown Trilogy, and about three months since I released Meet the Lidwells.  The sales for all of them have been rather slow and dribbling, but I’m okay with that.  They’re still out there, available to anyone who wants them, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

In fact, since I’ve registered all the books into a month-long summer sale over at Smashwords (If you haven’t gotten them, WELL WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?), I’ve gotten an uptick of downloads, especially for the entire trilogy.  Which makes me quite happy indeed!  {If you just recently bought them and are visiting my blog for the first time, thank you and Hi There!)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m playing the Long Game with my books.  By this, I mean that I’m not looking for or expecting a large wave of purchases in a short amount of time, but a small but consistent wave over a much longer period.  This makes more sense to me, because my aim as a self-published writer was never to become a Huge Bestselling Author (although let’s be honest, that would be nice).  It’s about having a nice long and varied backlist that people can check out whenever they like.  By the end of this year I’ll have five books on that backlist, with one, possibly two more coming in 2019.  I figure in ten years I’ll have a nice fat catalog that potential readers can check out.

Granted, I’ve essentially traded a big payout for longevity, but I’m down with that.  In my own fanciful imagination, I’d like to think that ten years down the road I’ll still be getting the occasional purchase notification on A Division of Souls, especially once the next book(s) in the Mendaihu Universe surface.

And it doesn’t hurt that I’ll have a nice lift in sales every few months or so when I hand my postcards out at conventions or sign up for a sales event at Smashwords.  And whenever I give myself a bit of a sales nudge online now and again, I’ll get a brief lift there as well.  I admit I’d like to do better at the self-promotion, but I’m glad to say what I’ve done so far does work for me.

It’s still a learning process, but I’m glad that it’s going in the right direction!

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.

 

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!

Adventures in Self-Publishing: The Myth of the One Chance for Success

One of the things I’ve been thinking about during this self-publishing project is that time-honored maxim, ‘You only have one chance to make a first impression.’  Okay, that might be true if you’re trying to, y’know, impress someone on the spot.  A potential date, a possible future boss, the audience watching your first stage performance.  It also sounds like you need to do it right the first time, or it’s going to be black mark on your cv and you’ll forever be labeled a hack.

I agree with that maxim when it refers to getting your book out there (especially your first one)…to an extent.  I agree when it pertains to making sure you’re providing the best work you’ve ever done.  No ‘there-I-fixed-it’ kludge editing, no relying blindly on spellcheck, no half-assed cover thrown together in a five minutes, and especially no ‘meh, they won’t notice’ rookie mistakes.  On that level, you want your book to be the most professional thing you’ve ever done to that date.

On the other hand, I’ve come to think that, even if my book is the best thing I’ve done, and that I’ve cleaned it up, spitshined it, formatted it, taken the steps to promote it, gave it a fifteen-point inspection and even rotated the tires, and led the call for all and sundry to come and bask in its awesomeness (or at least beg everyone buy the damn thing), I still might hear crickets upon the book’s arrival.

In this case, I still don’t think it’s necessarily true that I’ve spoiled that One Chance.

See, with my music obsession, I have a particular affinity for sleeper hits.  The ones that might not be a big hit right out of the gate, but still manage to attract a decent following.  The ones that the mainstream might not pay attention to right away, but will eventually.  Like Loveless or Fantastic Planet or The La’s or any one of those brilliant albums that took a long time to show up on everyone’s Best Ever lists.  They may have been minor hits at the time, but they didn’t get too far, at least not right away.  They had to grow on people.

This is how I’ve been looking at getting A Division of Souls out to the masses, really.  The most important thing, at least for me, is to get it out there first.  I’ve not done too much promotion as of yet, other than tweeting pictures and emailing links whenever I see it in the wild.  [The giddiness hasn’t abated, I admit.]  Reason being, I’m about sixty pages away from finishing the final edit, plus I’m going to need to format it as well before I can upload.  But once it’s up, it’s up and it’s live.  And I’m going to need to promote it at that point.

Which begs the question:  how to promote it?

Well, that’s the tricky part.  And I’ll be going into that in future posts, once I get to that level.  I’m still figuring it out right now.

Point being, part of the trick here is to avoid promoting it by making a huge pre-release scene over multiple platforms, like it’s a big Hollywood film.  I know from personal experience that no one likes to have a product jammed down their throats, even if it is something they’ve been waiting a long time for.  I’m taking the quieter route:  magazine reviews, word of mouth, reader contact, freebies, consistent blogging, and so on.  And a little further down the line, perhaps sitting in on a panel or two at a convention, limited release of physical copies, and so on.  It’ll be a much longer route to take, of course, but in the end it should pay off because I’d be keeping the book visible for a longer amount of time.

At that point I’ll make a good first impression on a new reader, even if it takes a while.  I’m in for the long haul.

*

If you would like to be one of the first to say “I was into his stuff before it was cool,” by all means!  Here’s some linkage for you!
 Barnes & Noble (Nook)
 Smashwords
 Kobo
Good Reads

I’ll of course add more as I find them.  [Apparently I need to jump a few hurdles in order to have it available on Kindle…more on that when I get to that point.]