A couple months ago, I didn’t realize I was setting myself up for having a series of free ebooks available on Amazon. In fact, I didn’t even know I would be able to do something like that (Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t allow you to set your prices below $.99) until I logged into my sales page one day to find my short story, Under the Scotch Broom, had spiked in downloads by a couple thousand copies after Amazon price matched Barnes & Noble.
The following week, another of my stories, Aria, went free as well. I’d made both stories free on Smashwords after a summer sale back in July, and decided to keep them that way. Eventually the prices proliferated through Smashwords’ distribution channels and Amazon got the memo.
While Aria didn’t perform quite as well as Scotch Broom (about 8500+ downloads to Scotch Broom’s 14000+), it was receiving solid reviews, and both are still seeing steady activity after their initial peak. It was also helping to sell copies of my short story collection Dead Wives Tales, because I had included it in there with its original ending as bonus material. I think people were curious enough to pay a buck to check it out. At that point, I was starting to see a real discernible bump in paid sales.
Two weeks ago, my shorts Vermin and Dust went free. A Concealed Hand went free a couple days ago and is performing on par with the others. While Dust hasn’t been quite as popular (it’s been a tougher sell, but it’s received excellent reviews), it hasn’t been exactly a slouch either — about 3500 downloads in the last two weeks. Vermin has been very hot, though. Probably more overall than Scotch Broom, especially given its classic horror stylings and the fact that people were probably downloading a lot of horror for Halloween. It also got the attention of some Vine/Top Reviewers on Amazon who have since downloaded and reviewed nearly my whole catalog. Paid sales have increased tremendously ever since then.
In the meantime, I’ve been getting a lot more Twitter mentions as well as GoodReads and Shelfari activity. There have been a few blah reviews now and then, but that’s to be expected and I don’t let it get me down. Overall, people have been very positive about my work, much to my pleasure and (I won’t lie) surprise. So I decided after some thinking to make all of my individual short stories free on Amazon (provided they allow it–there are a couple that they haven’t marked down yet), and see if people would keep coming back for more.
And they have. No, I’m not making Amanda Hocking dollars by any stretch, and my husband isn’t anywhere close to being able to quit his day job, but I’ll put it this way:
Prior to having a wide selection of free titles available on Amazon, I wasn’t really selling ANYTHING. And now I’m selling books every day. My list had more dust on it than your mom’s 8-track collection. When I first started selling, it took several months before I received my first royalty check, because Amazon doesn’t send them out until 60 days after you’ve accrued more than ten bucks on your balance. Sure, I was getting a few downloads here or there, and I did have one decent month over the summer, but it was easy to tell that most of my business was from friends or people associated with me in some way. Now that has changed.
It’s hard to make yourself visible in such a huge pool, and a lot of it is luck. But in many cases, you have to make your own luck, even if that means you’re giving away something you think is worth more because you worked hard on it. However, it’s important to keep this in mind: there are thousands of people out there who have Kindles specifically because of the access it gives them to free books. And there are people who take those authors just as seriously as any traditionally published author. And if they like what you write, they will take you seriously as an author and review you and treat you every bit as well as their NYT Bestseller heroes. And if they really, REALLY like you, they’ll even invest a few bucks in you and buy your paid work and review that too. And maybe some of the people who trust those reviewers will take their word on it and make a purchase, and so on and so forth.
Everything that happens after that can all be traced to the fact that you took a risk that your work was good enough to serve as its own promotion for the product that you’re actually selling: you. And once you have that momentum, it’s good to capitalize on it and keep putting things out. In that vein, I’ll soon be putting together another collection of short stories called Obsessions & Compulsions. At least one of those stories will be made available as a free stand-alone download. Hopefully I’ll have another novel up there sometime next year.
So yes, it pays to make your work free. In fact, in my experience, it can be one of the best things you can do for yourself as a self-publisher. Some people start making money off the bat. Some people really are just that lucky. But in most cases, you have to get the recognition before you get paid.