Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Free Advantage

By Matt Sinclair

Our latest free days are done, but I’m still sifting through the data of the experience. Last week, my company Elephant’s Bookshelf Press ran some ads to promote Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by fellow FTWAer R.S. Mellette. Friday was National Physics Day, so we decided to try to become a particle on that wave and ride it ohm. My painful puns aside, I was pleased with the results.

Billy Bobble is in KDP Select, which means the electronic version of the book is currently distributed exclusively through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. For every ninety days of exclusivity on what is clearly the biggest online bookselling space, we have up to five days during which we can “sell” the book for free. While we could just use those days and see what happens, it makes a lot of sense to promote the fact that it’s available for free. After all, the point is to get the book in front of as many people as possible.

I won’t specify which vehicle we used the first time we tried this for Billy Bobble, as the results were less than lackluster. Let’s just say, we had much higher expectations than the double-digit returns we got, especially when the advertising vehicle said its emails were sent to more than a hundred thousand addresses.

So, with Physics Day on the horizon, I decided to conduct an experiment. We’d run three consecutive free days. On the first, I chose to run an ad through a popular site geared toward voracious readers. The second day, we advertised through an even more popular site that had worked well for us in the past (when Battery Brothers became the most widely downloaded free YA book on Amazon for a day… ah, memories…)

Without giving away too much information, I’ll say this: if BookBub is as effective as it is popular and exclusive, then those authors whose books are accepted for it (which we weren’t) must be very pleased. While the results for Billy Bobble were not quite as strong as those for Battery Brothers, we easily topped a thousand downloads for the three days. I think I was running a slight risk in highlighting the physics aspect of the novel, but it’s true to the work. Although some folks seem to be frightened by what might sound intimidating, we keep receiving very positive reviews along the lines of “not just for kids,” and “a fun family read.”

I’m asked sometimes why we would give the book away for free; why not simply discount. There are several reasons. For one, it’s a good way to get the book in front of a lot of ebook readers – particularly those who are savvy (or cheap) enough to subscribe to the popular “free download” newsletters. That said, I’m well aware that many of those downloaded books will never be read. I can’t tell you how many free titles are currently languishing on my Kindle while I spend my time reading books for work and for EBP. But one of the most valuable reasons is that we’re more likely to get reviews after a free day.

I always hope to get at least one review for every ten downloads. On Amazon, the number of reviews helps get the book into their email promotions, which don’t cost EBP anything. Plus, if those readers enjoyed Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand, then we hope they’ll be excited for Billy Bobble and the Witch Hunt, which I’m editing now. Ultimately, it’s all about providing readers an enjoyable experience and getting them to come back for more.

How have you promoted your free days? Care to share?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette and Tales from the Bully Box, a collection of anti-bullying stories edited by Cat Woods. EBP is currently looking for horror stories for an anthology that will be published in the fall. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.

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