This week Getting Lucky reached a milestone, it has been downloaded over 100 times in the 3 months since it launched. This is something I am extremely excited about. The caveat? About 90 of those copies were free.

When I first launched Getting Lucky I was charging 99c and even at that price point it followed the second curve on the previously discussed sales curve. It very quickly dropped into the valley of despair and showed no signs of climbing its way out. I knew that I should do some marketing, create a social media buzz, do a blog tour and all those other good things, but my free time is extremely limited and I really needed to spend it finishing my first full length novel. I don’t have the money or inclination to outsource my marketing, plus I genuinely believe that the best person to promote my book is me. That left me with a dilemma. Before I could solve it I needed to take a step back and figure out what exactly I was trying to achieve.

Some people write for a living. I hope to be one of them one day. However, at the moment I have a full time job, so any income I receive from writing is purely supplemental. At 99c a copy (of which I receive 35-70%) and a handful of copies selling a week, I was raking in enough to treat myself to coffee and donuts once a month. I wanted more people to read my book, and for a short while I mistakenly thought that meant trying to convince more people to buy it. I tried a few approaches with limited success. Then on a whim one day I switched Getting Lucky to free.


The spoils of labor!

The downloads didn’t sky-rocket immediately like I hoped they would. The simple act of making a book free doesn’t instantly make people aware of it, it just removes the main barrier to entry. However, the number of downloads did start to increase again. On the first day one person downloaded it, then 2-3 a day and on weekends I typically get 5-6 downloads a day. It is still slow progress, but it’s progress! Of course as a business strategy this sounds like a terrible idea, I am not making any money. However, if you think about it a different way, I haven’t spent anything except $50 of potentially lost sales (assuming all of the people that downloaded it would have paid for it, which they wouldn’t) to get my story onto 100 more devices. If just a small percentage of those people enjoy my writing style, then I’ve got some new fans for a minimal investment. I’m already getting more ratings and reviews, which is helping to drive more interest and downloads. These new customers are also tweeting and blogging and basically doing the marketing piece far more effectively than I ever could. Now I just need to get my next book out there so they have something to buy!

On that note, I’ve heard from other authors that if you have multiple books in a series, making the first book free is a very effective way to drive sales of book two and up. A couple of things to be aware of though. Your current ‘conversion ratio’ – ie people that read book one and go on to buy the next book(s), will not remain the same in a free promotion. Why is this? Well primarily because some people are more than happy to just read the multitude of free books available. Others may download several free books at once and not get around to reading all of them. Even if the conversion ratio drops considerably, expect the increase in downloads for the free book to more than compensate for it. Overall you may still be better off financially. Here’s some quick numbers to illustrate the point:

Free Promotion

* not included in Total sold

At this point I’m still not sure if I will leave Getting Lucky free indefinitely or wait until I hit an arbitrary number of downloads and/or reviews before switching it back to 99c. I do know that the downloads and comments are encouraging me to finish my current book sooner, which can only be a good thing. It’s not necessarily a tactic for everyone, particularly if you are relying on the income of your sales, but if you’re truly stuck in the valley of despair why not give it a shot?

A couple of housekeeping notes about making your book free so you don’t learn them the hard way like I had to. Currently the Kobo Writing Life dashboard doesn’t track free downloads, so if the download figure doesn’t change don’t be discouraged. I checked with them and that feature is coming in July 2013, so you don’t have long to wait. Kindle currently doesn’t allow you to make your book free (apart from the limited promotions in the KDP program). However, if they discover your book is free on other platforms, either through yourself or customers, they will make eventually make it free. There’s a link on each books Amazon page called ‘tell us about a lower price’ that is used for this purpose. This seemingly has to be done on a territory by territory basis. Note that I have heard it’s a pain to get them to charge for it again, but as I haven’t gone through that yet I can’t comment. You could also make a free PDF copy available to increase exposure, but if it isn’t properly secured it is easy to share and may restrict future sales if you decide to start charging again.

I hope that helped. I’d love to hear from other people that have tried free promotions, how did it go?