Adventures in Self-Publishing Part 4: I Did A Whole Bunch of Stuff!

In last month's column I complained I was too busy to actually do anything to market and promote my novella. I felt bad, filing a short column (since there was not much to report), so I promised myself that this month, I wouldn't rest on my laurels. Whatever a laurel is. So I did a bunch of stuff! And it paid off. A little. I think? 

But first, I need to start with an apology...

I'm sorry

As I've noted, this whole self-publishing thing is a bit of an experiment. I want to try different things to see what happens, so I can write about them here. One of the things I wanted to do was enroll in Amazon's KDP Select program. There are advantages to doing this: You get included in the Kindle lending library, and if people borrow your book, Amazon gives you money. Also, you get to drop your price to $0.00 for up to 5 days. Which is great, if you want a bunch of people to download your book for free, and then not download it when the price goes back up. Supposedly this is a savvy marketing technique. 

The downside of the program is that, for the first three months, you can't sell your eBook through another store. That would mean de-listing the book from Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Now, I struggled with this. I really did. I don't want to shut people out. That's just bad business. And it's kinda rude. I wish I had enrolled in KDP right off the bat because the three months would be up by now. 

But at the same time, I wanted to see what would happen. So I did it. I enrolled, and took the novella down in the other stores. So if you're a Nook owner or a Kobo owner, please accept my apologies. As soon as the three months are up, it'll go right back up. 

So what happened with KDP?! 

No one's borrowed the book yet. I tried the free giveaway, but just for two days, instead of the full five. It was downloaded by 796 people in that two-day period. Which is a 1226 percent increase over those who actually paid for it. During the promotion I climbed the rankings pretty fast, and by the time it ended I was ranked 490 overall for free books on Amazon. Something like that.

As soon as the promotion ended, I dropped right down in the paid rankings, and have since sold three copies (as of last night). I also got this gem of a review (not sure if it was related to the giveaway, but it might be): 

Good story. Short but good. Kinds predictable. But worth it. Word s.word s.words .words .words. words. words. words. words.hi ghost

Eh, it was four stars, so I'll take it. 

So what was the point of giving it away for free? I don't know yet. I'm hoping it'll score me some more reviews. I've got 11 thus far, and they're all 4 and 5 star, but it never hurts to have more. Hopefully they stay nice (someone called the novella zombie noir, which made my life).

I'm thinking that if I had other work for sale it would have been more useful to make the book free—people might have gotten hooked by the novella, leading them to my other work. But I don't have anything else, so I don't know. 

At the same time I was messing with KDP, D.R. Crislip ran a free promotion on his book, The Sinner King: Book of Fire. It's the first of a four-part series, and he was hoping to cultivate some more readers in anticipation of releasing the second installment. I asked him about it, since he's in a different boat than me, his work being serialized. He ended up giving away more than 9,500 copies, and ended up as the 18th most popular free eBook in the Kindle store. Here's what he had to say about the experience:

As of the morning of the 15th, my book had completely flat-lined. No new sales. But in the afternoon, I noticed that my book's Amazon page had been altered and I had a new section, Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought, and I received a couple of new sales. And it continued throughout the day. I also started receiving borrows for the first time. And as of today the number is increasing--slowly but steady.

So overall: I'm pretty happy with my free promotion results and I'm very glad I did it. Exposure to 9,500 readers is invaluable to a no-platform, no-track-record writer. I don't want to say that I don't care that my book was free (I care a little) but the readers are everything; and like what Field of Dreams taught me: if you build it, they will come . . . as long as it doesn't suck.

So it seems that it's a good way to cultivate readers. Crislip is going to have an easier time gauging this whole thing, when his second book comes out. Hopefully it pays off, and some of those readers who picked up the first one stick around. 

Searching for reviews 

The other thing I did was to write a whole bunch of websites, asking them if they wanted to review my novella. Essentially, I dug around looking for horror sites, or sites that focused on zombies, or sites that offered to review self-published books. I don't know how many I sent—a lot, and it took a while, because instead of doing a blind form letter, I tried to personalize all the messages. A couple of the sites even got back to me, and requested a copy to review. This is exciting, and I'm hoping it'll get more eyes on the novella, though that's all part of the long game. 

And, I did score one review, though not related to my volley of requests. Katrina Monroe over at On Fiction Writing asked to read it, and had some very nice things to say. You can see that here. This is my first "other website reviewing my work" kind of thing, so it's really exciting, and flattering, and I dig On Fiction Writing so it's nice to be included there. (Though, still searching for that damn typo she called me out on—just when you think you've gotten them all...)

I also had a short story hit, in Needle: A Magazine of Noir, about a drag queen crime lord character I'd like to eventually spin into a novel. I'm hoping that'll earn me a little trickle-down publicity too. Fingers crossed!

Oh, one more thing...

Next Monday, Joseph Nassise is back at LitReactor teaching his class on digital self-publishing. I'd be very remiss if I didn't give it a plug. I took Joe's class the first time around, and it's how I learned to do this thing. He was a great teacher, and he's been incredibly gracious since then, even giving me a plug in a Halloween promotion he did. Not to get all sales-y on you, but if you were ever thinking of trying this, give the class a long, hard look. It's worth every penny. 

Sales tally:

  • Amazon (paid): 61 (up 16 from last month)
  • Amazon (free): 796
  • Amazon (borrowed): 0
  • Barnes & Noble: 15 (up 1 from last month)
  • Kobo: 0

Discussion time

What do you think about my decision to enroll in Amazon's KDP program? Was it wrong to shut out potential customers, or was it an avenue worth exploring? 

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DaveShepherd's picture
DaveShepherd from Calgary is reading No Country for Old Men November 19, 2012 - 10:47am

I get that this is an experiment, but in reality I think the KDP program would be a lot more effective if you had other works already on Amazon. Then, if someone enjoyed "The Last Safe Place" (which I did, btw), you could have a page of links to other stuff you have available on Amazon.

Given that you're not a name brand, I wouldn't expect people to remember your name, so anyone who received your book for free probably won't go out searching for you if you put something else up on Amazon. 

I can't remember if you have a link to your website or anything in the back of your novel, but it would be interesting to see the conversion rate -- how many people get the book for free then check out your website within the next month or so?

It's hard to gauge how effective the program is when you can't get any useful numbers besides the amount of copies given away.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this November 19, 2012 - 10:54am

Dave--that's a good point, on the website. I barely check it (I'm terrible with keeping it up to date), but I just took a peek and yea, I've got more hits coming in than normal. So there's that. The site does have information about other things I work on--stuff here, the LitReactor podcast, short stories I've had--so stuff that maybe doesn't put money directly in my pocket, but is still useful to have attenion for. 

EdVaughn's picture
EdVaughn from Louisville, Ky is reading a whole bunch of different stuff November 19, 2012 - 9:12pm

I think I'm the one that called it Zombie Noir. You just really have that type of voice, ya know. I really dug it. And I didn't realize you had it up for free or I would have helped plug it for you. Anyway really cool book man. Looking forward to more.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this November 20, 2012 - 8:37am

Red, thank you. I love the term. Really, made my day when I read it. 

James Dawson's picture
James Dawson November 20, 2012 - 12:46pm

Just got my copy on have been looking foward to it since I first read about it. Do you intend to make any printed copies of your book or are you keeping it purely electronic for downloads?


Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this November 20, 2012 - 12:50pm

Thanks for picking it up, James. I do hope to do a small-scale print version at some point, though it's a matter of finding the time to assemble and proof it. And I think I need a new cover. But, when I do, you'll hear about it right here.