Indie author’s challenges: free book promos

I have already written a post about free book promo as a tool for indie authors to find readers. You can check it by clicking here. In that article, I talked about a few things you should consider before making a decision about free promos.

–          Compare your results with zero

If you managed to find your audience and are selling some books right after they are released, it’s great. But if like many indie authors, you only begin to look for your audience, every method you can try is a worthy one.

–          Free isn’t really free

It’s a tricky thing to wrap one’s head around. In order to make readers actually see your free book, you have to pay those who know how to put the book in front of interested readers’ eyes. In this post, I’ll share the book promo services providers I’ve worked with and the results I got.

–          Readers might not appreciate your generosity

Yes, this is a painful one. We can’t avoid it. Only if we are lucky, but even then, probably not. After thousands of people download your book, chances are high that there’ll be a few among them who won’t simply hate your story but will also wish to share their feelings with the world by giving your book a 1- or 2-star rate on Amazon and/or Goodreads. It stings even more when you see how someone binge-reads your whole series on Kindle Unlimited, but no rates follow.

This time, to add some practical value to my voluminous speculations, I’ll share some statistics and promo services providers I worked with.

So, this year (2022), during free book promo campaigns, a little over 5 000 copies of “Neglected Merge”, book one of the Neglected Merge trilogy, were downloaded. Adding 3 100 copies downloaded in 2021, we get a bit over 8 000 downloaded copies.

In 2022 I had 5 (five) free book promo campaigns – in February, April, May, June, and the last one, in November. Three of them were combined with 0.99c/0.99p promos for books 2&3 of the trilogy, “Tangle of Choices” and “Shifting Directions”.

Conclusion number one: combined promos work the best. During combined promos, there always were sales of books 2&3, while there were none during free book promos when other books weren’t on sale.

Although I worked with more book promo services providers (considering that I had promos in 2021), in 2022 I selected the companies that have the best reputation according to various authors’ digests. Here is the list.

Robin Reads

Ereader News Today

Book Dealio

JamesHMayfield.com

Book Doggie

Book Runes

Fussy Librarian

My Book Cave

Book Raid

Just Kindle Books

eBook Betty

Each of my promo campaigns was a so-called stacked promo. This means that I had more than one provider promoting my book each day of the campaign. That’s why I don’t know how many downloads/sales came from each provider. But, based on various factors – for example, the time each of the companies sends their newsletter and using different combinations of providers – I made my own conclusions about each provider’s effectiveness.

Conclusion number two: unless you can get a BookBub featured deal, you can use other effective book promo service providers to promote your free book deal. I got the best results from Robin Reads and My Book Cave.

Keep in mind that the most effective book promo service providers have their own requirements for the books they accept for promotion. They usually include the number of reviews and an average rating. Some don’t accept certain genres, for example, poetry or erotica.

Now, the most exciting part. Results.

For my books, they haven’t been what one can call splendid. I think that the results of such promos depend heavily on the book genre. Romance, crime, and young adult fantasy novels do incomparably better than my adult utopian fantasy romance without any magic in it. This is the thing the authors who write cross-genres have to accept. If a book stands out, fewer readers would want to take the risk. Just like with new ice cream flavours. Be honest, would you readily try a garlic ice cream? (Yes, we do have such in Riga, in one quaint place that serves everything with garlic).

Nevertheless, I believe that offering your first book/books for free is a good way to expose them to a wider audience. At least at the beginning of your publishing journey.

There aren’t many methods for an unknown author to find readers beyond their circle of family/friends/colleagues and social media followers who are mainly all of the mentioned above. People are reluctant to pay money for books written by someone they know nothing about. Offering readers a free book is an excellent way to motivate them to give it a try.

So, numbers. As I mentioned before, a bit more than eight thousand people downloaded “Neglected Merge”. Approximately 35 readers left a review or rate on Amazon. Besides, a hearty portion of them is 1-2-3 star ones. I imagine it can be considered a poor result, and I won’t say it doesn’t sting. Especially since I know that those lowest rates without any text will stay there forever. Amazon removes rates and reviews regularly, based on their internal review checking policies. And in my case, only 5-star reviews and rates have ever been deleted. I lost approximately ten reviews/rates for the Neglected Merge trilogy. Only in two cases, Amazon reinstated the reviews. In all others, they disappeared without any explanation. When you send them emails asking for one, you often receive a form reply that makes it clear they don’t always read emails.

Conclusion number three: offering my first book for free was a good way to get some reviews/rates. Without it, “Neglected Merge” would have had less than half of the reviews/rates it has now. So, in my opinion, it was worth it. Still, I won’t continue free book promos in 2023.

The main reason for this decision is that it is really difficult to control your book’s rating. With 1 and 2-star rates coming after almost every promo and sticking forever, and Amazon deleting 5-star ones, there is always a chance your book will hang there looking unattractive with four or fewer full stars.

I don’t want my books to look bad. A part of my heart and soul is on their pages. Moreover, my money – earned elsewhere – is invested in covers, editing, and promotion. True, no one forces me to spend (waste, as some people say) money on all these things. But I want to. It is the choice I make willingly and lovingly. So, I also make a choice not to expose my books to more negativity.

Books are judged by their cover – in this case, by their average rating. We might argue with that, but the fact remains. People look at the stars, ratings, tops, etc. when such are available.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people expressing their honest opinions about the books they’ve read. However, it can be argued what value a 1 or 2-star rate without a text review has for potential customers. Still, this is the way it should be to keep the whole process fair and transparent. There’ll always be pluses and minuses, advantages and disadvantages in every single thing in the world, and publishing books isn’t an exception. But, while I accept – I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt – that some readers might feel reading my books was a waste of time and express their disdain by rating them low, I love my books. I have the right to love and respect them, just like readers have the right to hate them.

Final conclusion. Instead of free book promos, in 2023 I plan to switch to offering readers 0.99 deals. My experience so far with this promotion method hasn’t been successful, but I haven’t tested all the options.

I hope my experience will be at least in some way useful to other indie authors. I know how hard it is to find practical information in the jungle of promotional articles. With promoting books, there are more variable factors than with any other product. You can do two identical things – for example, promote your free book deal with the same book promo company – and get absolutely different results. After one promo, you can receive a few rates, half of them low, having given away a thousand books. While after the next one, your book page can be flooded with 5-star reviews, even if only a couple of hundred people downloaded it.

From what I’ve seen so far, after twenty months of actively promoting “Neglected Merge”, book promotion is both a lottery and a rollercoaster. If you don’t buy that lottery ticket, your chances to win are zero. And even if you buy one, there is no guarantee of winning. Besides, while for every writer, seeing their book out there in the world feels amazing, we all will inevitably get hurt, disillusioned, and disappointed at some point during our journey.

The only thing about books and writing that is unwavering is the feeling that magic is real. The stories that for so long lived only in your head turn into something tangible. Something that can change someone’s mood and even life. If this isn’t pure magic, I don’t know what is.

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