The following is my secret. A secret that I have limited evidence for, but I strongly believe. And I’m not stupid. It’s the most important tip I can give you if you plan on selfpubbing.
So you want to publish a book. Good luck with that. Well, not the publishing part, that’s pretty easy these days. Getting people to read it on the other hand, that’s tricky.
I’m not going to tell you to make sure the book is well edited, that it’s a great book, well formatted and has a great cover. Nope. That’s been well covered before by people who are good at those things. What I’m going to tell you is to set the book free. FREE!
Give it away. It’s worth nothing otherwise. Zip. If you publish it, it will not magically rise to a best seller status all on its own. It will not be picked up by some blog somewhere and breakout. The best way you can be successful is to price your book at free. And THEN promote the hell out of it.
Why? You’re not a brand yet. And you have to be a brand to be successful. There are exceptions, yes. Fine. But I’m not the exception. You probably aren’t either. We’re the 99.9%. Deal with it.
But am I not demeaning my work? You ask. Won’t the reader not value my book? No: Reader’s invest their time more than their money. They learn about books through word of mouth. If no one’s reading your book, no word. No mouth. Besides, if you charge 99 cents for it, you just compared it to a chocolate bar.
Okay, so why free?
Recently there’s been a hullabaloo over JK Rowling’s outing as debut author Robert Galbraith. Mr. Galbraith was doing just fine thank you very much. (Actually pretty decent numbers). But it wasn’t until the news broke that Galbraith = Rowling, that he joined her on the bestseller list. That’s a brand at work.
So look at that. Someone is doing pretty well selling a few thousand copies. They’ll get another book deal with those numbers. Maybe the next book will sell 10,000 copies. The one after that 20,000? Maybe more? Great numbers! Soon they’ll have a following and they’re on their way to becoming a brand. It’ll take five years, but with some luck and hard work they’ll get there. And believe me, most published authors won’t do this well. Not even close. Most will never become a brand.
Here’s what most self published authors do. They price their ebook at $2.99 in order to capture the 70% royalty offered by Amazon. They do some blog tours. Run a giveaway. Tweet and Facebook. Maybe sell a few, maybe even a few hundred. But it doesn’t last long. Soon they’re down to 1 a week.
Here’s another option. You can give it away and have tens of thousands of downloads over the course of months. Sure, most of these people won’t read your book. But some will. I think you need some 50,000 copies floating out there to be starting to develop your brand, maybe it’s a 100,000 but with free this is entirely possible.
Why not use KDP Select? You ask. You can, but I like perma-free. Simply publish the book on the iBookstore and set the price to free there, inform Amazon and within a few days they’ll ‘price match’. This way your book can be free for months, not 5 days. It takes a while for word of mouth and for the Amazon algorithm to kick in. The changes in Amazon’s engine instituted in March had a major impact on the advantages of short free stints.
Am I an expert on this? No. I’ve done it twice. But I’m getting reviews now. And reviews mean readers and it’s something to build upon. And because of this, I’ve been noodling around other strategies that are conducive to free. I also think it’s the self publisher’s only straightforward option that has a high chance of working.
Is this right for everyone? NO!
I think this works well for Erotica, Romance (including paranormal), and Thrillers. Maybe it’ll work okay for some SciFi, Horror, Mystery and Fantasy. It hasn’t worked for my young adult (not crossover) and that’s my best reviewed book. The numbers have little to do with reviews, it has everything to do with market size.
The Future: Traditional publishers will be exploring free too. Discoverability is tough and, as print shelf space dwindles, the Amazon engine is the KING. And if you didn’t hear me, I’ll say it another way. AMAZON owns you. They need you, sure, but they are THE BEST WAY TO GET YOUR BOOK OUT THERE. Sponsored books, advertising funded books, serialized books where the first episodes are free. These will become commonplace. Why isn’t traditional publishing doing it right now? They are a little, but they have other ways to market, like buying shelf space, and advertising (which works). They have hundreds of contacts, booksellers, publicists, print distributors, they’re better at marketing than 95% of authors (there are some amazing exceptions I grant you). Free’s one of the few ways you can compete with a marketing budget.
If you hadn’t noticed, you’re not going to make any money this way. So you need to write more books. Lots of them. Good ones. Build your brand with free and then get paid for it.
And if you land a publisher? Guess what, they’ll pay a lot more for your books if you already have a brand, and then they’ll probably want to go back and republish everything you published for free. Nothing is ever wasted.
Build your brand first, then worry about the money. Worrying about the money first will mean you don’t get any. Ever.
P.S. It’s still going to take 5 years, or more.