Firstly, if you’ve not had the joy of watching The Wire I’d recommend you give it a try… There’s a reason why this TV Series ran on HBO for 5 seasons and an on-going theme throughout was the practice of ‘massaging the stats‘ in the Baltimore City Police Department. As a weak attempt to curry political favour with the Mayor’s office, it did little to actually improve the general crime levels, and in fact generated a culture of ‘quick busts’ and superficial policework.
Now how does this relate to indie publishing?
A common technique to boost sales on Amazon is to offer freebies; most recently through the KDP Select scheme. The upside to this is that there is a ready horde of ‘freebie junkies’ waiting to download a free book and artificially boost your ‘popularity’ in the Amazon rankings. But there are several downsides to this with regards to selling your work:
1) It promotes a culture of ‘freebie-grabbing’ consumers who may not actually consider buying your book. The payback you get from this is a short bump in ranking and maybe a few sales but little more – reviews from this will be rare.
2) The growing number of free novels on offer could easily result in downloads that are then ‘left on the shelf‘, or disillusioned consumers tired of wading through the freebies on offer (if you don’t believe me take some time searching through the Amazon forums).
3) Spam. To make the most of freebie periods it becomes common for authors to try and increase their ranking with spam via twitter, facebook, e-mail, or other online communities. This can be irritating for readers and runs the risk of putting them off the indie community.
4) Eventually readers will wise-up to the fact that you’re simply ‘massaging the stats‘ to generate interest. This will result in them searching elsewhere for recommendations, or (more likely) Amazon will overhaul its ranking system so that freebies have less of an impact on rankings.
5) Indie = cheap right? The indie publishing market is not helped on the whole by overuse of this technique as consumers will become used to significantly under-priced books.
Unless coupled with an alternative marketing strategy giving away freebies like this does little to actually engage with your potential readers. Online forums and sites like Goodreads are essential for actually connecting with your readers in a non-obtrusive way (so I cannot stress how important it is that your book is listed there). As an example of a balanced marketing plan check out this brilliant excerpt from a fellow author’s blog:
“So was it a fluke, or was it careful planning?
Well – for a start, I didn’t use any of the common ‘tricks’ – for want of a better word. No KDP Select with free days, no free promos at all, in fact. Nor was I ever the Kindle Daily Deal – my current bête noir as these books come from nowhere each day, push me off the top, and then disappear a few days later!
I did a lot of planning but all of it was far later than it should have been. And I worked very, very hard. All of which will have helped enormously, and I am lucky because since selling my business a few years ago, I no longer work and therefore have the time to focus solely on book promotion. But I can’t deny that there will have been a good deal of luck involved too.
I gained some brilliant readers early on, who really promoted Only the Innocent through the forums. One day, I had a massive leap and mentioned on a forum that I didn’t know how that had happened. One of my lovely readers said – “just go check out this forum, and you’ll see”. It turned out that several people were talking at the same time about my book, and others were saying “great – I’ll buy it now”. So I was lucky that some of my early readers were also very active in the forums. That really is luck – but then they may well have bought it because we ‘met’ on a forum in the first place.
Whether it’s a mixture of luck and hard work or not though, it does take a lot of time and effort if you’re on your own in all this (ie no agent, no publisher). And you really do need to plan.”
I think that 2012 should see a shift in the way that readers and authors engage with the e-book market and this has started already with an increase in the quality of work out there. I just hope that you’re ready to adjust to how a reader picks you out from the crowd.
Let’s face it: how many paying readers will want to trawl through the growing pile of freebies out there just to find something they might like?