More 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.