Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Proof that FREE Really Works...

I've been wanting to speak out a little more often on what works—and what doesn't—in selling books in an attempt to aid those who are navigating the maze of publishing these days, whether you've chosen self-publishing or traditional publishing. I've got a foot in both camps, but I don't mind saying publicly that my self-published books make way more money than my traditionally published books do. It comes down to the law of averages: if you are earning less than $1 per book, you have to sell a LOT more books before you hit thresholds anywhere near what you reach when you are making $3.87 per book. 

I've blogged before about the runaway success of my free offering of Maid for Love last year. Beginning June 15, Maid for Love, book 1 in my McCarthys of Gansett Island Series, was free at all major retailers. I set it to free at Apple and Kobo (very easy to do at both retailers) and then notified Amazon of the price change. They matched it. To my knowledge, there is only one way to make a book free at B&N: I distributed a free copy to B&N via Smashwords, and eventually that copy appeared on the retail site. At that point, I took the paid book "Off Sale" on my dashboard, so only the free Nook version showed up on the retail site. Over the next few months, we saw more than 600,000 downloads of Maid for Love across all platforms. Sales of books 2-6 exploded. Book 7, Longing for Love, was released in October of 2012 and had the strongest week one showing of any book of mine to date. Because it was initially offered as a Kindle exclusive, it didn't make any of the bestseller lists, but it posted numbers that were definitely in the bestseller range. Book 8, Waiting for Love, was released Feb. 18 on all platforms and hit no. 6 on the New York Times ebook list, no. 11 on the NYT combined print/ebook list, no. 15 on the USA Today list and no. 6 on the Wall Street Journal ebook list. I believe the bestseller list showings tie directly to the free offering of Maid for Love. 

Because the Maid for Love offering was so successful, I asked Harlequin to offer Fatal Affair for free around the release of book 5, Fatal Deception, last November. It took a bit of begging and some pleading, but they decided to put Fatal Affair up for free for the month of November. It did so well that I begged for a second month and December was added as well. I haven't heard exact numbers but the downloads were in the 300,000 range and sales of the other four books were in the 180,000 neighborhood. Book 5, Fatal Deception, became the first of my books to hit a major bestseller list, coming in at no. 99 on the USA Today list. Did the free offering spur that placement? What do you think? I say definitely!

I've done some messing around with the price of Maid for Love in recent weeks. I set it back to $3.99 for a while and it did okay, with maybe 100 sales per day across platforms, but I noticed an overall slowdown of sales for books 2-8. So I dropped the price to 99 cents. Again, it did okay, but not great. So I've set it back to free on Apple and Kobo, distributed a free version from Smashwords to B&N and notified Amazon of the lower prices. Maybe they will match, maybe they won't. For now, it's 99 cents at Amazon. On March 24, there were 150 Apple downloads of the free version in the U.S. iBookstore. I figure if even HALF of that 150 buy the other seven books in the series, that's 525 books sold at a profit of $3.87. That translates to $2031.75 in profit as the result of ONE DAY of free sales at ONE retailer—and that's if only HALF the free readers like the book enough to buy the rest of the series. If they all do, that's a profit of $4062 for one day of free downloads at one retailer. That more than offsets the "loss" of offering book 1 for free. If they love the McCarthy Series, I have 17 (soon to be 18) other books available, and if they buy all of them over time as well as any future books I may publish, then that's a huge win, all thanks to one free book that acted as a gateway between me a reader who is now a fan for life.

In this digital age of publishing, "discoverability" remains our greatest challenge. How do we get readers to find our books? Most of us are readers in addition to being writers. Most of us have taken a chance on a new-to-us author because they offered a free book. Most of us might not have paid even 99 cents to try a book by an unknown author. But what is lost when you try something for free? Nothing. What can be gained by offering a book for free? See above! 

Questions? Feel free to ask away. I hope to post more often about my self-publishing journey, so let me know if there are topics you'd like to hear more about.


18 comments:

Caridad Pineiro said...

Thanks for sharing your advice and many congrats on your success. I've released by my first free book this week and will let you know how that works. Appreciate all the wisdom you are offering to us on indie publishing.

Bob said...

Congrats. It certainly has worked as you hit the NY Times list

ahz1 said...

Thank you for offering your books for free. I'm a reader and I am so glad that I discovered your books. My next book purchases will certainly include your books.

Marie Force said...

Caridad,
Definitely let me know how your free offering works for you. Happy to share what I have learned along the way. We're all in this together!

Bob,
Yes, I guess that's the best proof we've got of what works! :-)

Marie Force said...

Thank you ahz1. So glad to have you as a reader and that you found me through my free books!

Minx Malone said...

Great post! I did this with the prequel to my Alexanders series and it's been more successful than I ever dreamed.

I think the mistake some newbies make is thinking they can offer just anything for free.

This is your chance to impress potential buyers. The free offering needs to be fantastic. (And Maid for Love is fantastic, for anyone who hasn't read it yet). Otherwise, the reader won't pick up any of your other books.

Marie Force said...

That's a VERY important point, Minx. If you're going to be "carpet bombing" the world with your free offering, make sure the book is really, really good. Otherwise, don't expect great results. Maid for Love is a fun book with a sexy hero and an appealing, scrappy heroine. People related to them big time, enough to buy the rest of the series in the hundreds of thousands. Without Mac and Maddie's appeal, those results would not be the same. Thanks for making that point! It's well worth mentioning.

Charlene Sands said...

Great insight into the world of self pubbing Marie. Thanks for sharing your numbers and personally for all the help you've given. Congrats on those numbers!

Marie Force said...

Thanks Charlene! So glad you found the info helpful.

Judy Kentrus said...

Thanks for sharing your "success" in self publishing. I found you because of that "free" book and as a result, purchased all the rest of your books. I am in the process of finishing a book and want to go the e-book route. After I have a couple of my friends read it - Marie Force fans - I should have it professionally edited. If you can address that subject next, it would be appreciated.
Thanks, Judy Kentrus

Jenna Blue said...

Marie, this is fascinating! Thank you for sharing!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I wholeheartedly agree with everything Marie said. Free is one of the best promo tools an indie author has in their bag of tricks.

Mid-December 2012 I made my stand alone book, WAIT FOR ME, free. All I wanted was more reviews for this book that I love. My husband wasn't sure. He said, "It's not part of a series. It won't drive readers to your other books." It had been out for a year, and was selling consistently, but nothing jaw dropping (not like my series books). I decided to go for it and did what Marie suggested...made it free at iTunes and waited for Amazon to price match. It shot up the free charts. By the middle of January, I'd given away 500,000 copies. I moved it to paid Jan 16, and to my surprise it shot back up the paid list. It spent 5 weeks on the NYT list (ebook and combined lists), 7 wks on the USA Today and hit every other bestsellers list out there (WSJ, Indiereader, DBW, etc.) I've turned down publisher offers to grab this book. We've sold it in audio and to multiple publishers overseas. All my other books (non-related series books) are booming. Had I not made it WAIT FOR ME free in December, none of this would have happened.

I'm a huge proponent of free. Absolutely try it if you haven't yet.

Marie Force said...

Congrats, Elisabeth! Thrilled to watch the success of Wait for Me!

Judy, see my post on copy editing here: http://e-bookformattingfairies.blogspot.com/2012/04/do-you-need-copy-editor-you-bet-you-do.html

Na said...

I remember when I first came across your book a while back, I liked the blurb and added it to my wishlist. When it went on sale ( I think 0.99) I scooped it up and went on to discover your books! Now I'm glad to read your books :) Congratulations on your sucess.I consistently see your books, not just the recent releases but the older ones, still breaking the top 100 Amazon lists. Keep going higher!

Marie Force said...

Thank you Na, and thanks for reading!

Laurel S said...

I have to say I started buying your books after you offered True North for free (and it's still one of my favorites) I had read some blurbs for your books and even had some on my wish list but I wasn't sure I'd like them. Since that first free book I have bought all of the Fatal & McCarthy books and I am working my way through the stand alone books now (I only have a couple to go) so offering a free book definately works, as a reader it lets us take a chance on a new author without risk, and if we like it we're a pretty loyal group.

Marie Force said...

Thank you so much, Laurel! You certainly are a loyal group and I am thankful for each and every one of you!

Anonymous said...

I first found you with a print copy of Everybody Loves a Hero and then proceeded to purchase all your works on Kindle (where you have your own collection so I can re-read as every new series title becomes available). I refuse to pay full price for Kindle titles of other authors b/c I know the AUTHOR isn't getting the extra money. I buy paperbacks at 25% off at Target or Walmart or wait for the Kindle price to be lowered. I NEVER have to do that with your books as they are always reasonably priced and I know YOU are getting more of the profit which YOU deserve! Keep up the great stories!