Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Do Free Books on Amazon Help?

It's amazing what selling a book for free on Amazon can do.  Not for your career, mind you, but for that free book alone.  Sadly, at least for an Indie author at the beginning of his career, free book sales do NOT automatically convert to paid-for book sales.  Don't get me wrong.  I didn't expect it to.  And I understand why it happens.  So I am not disappointed.  Let's look at why:

Last Dance of a Black Widow, a 3,000 word short story went on sale yesterday for free.  Within 24 hours, it became:
  • #1 free short story
  • #2 free horror
  • #49 in free Kindle (All)

Pretty good, right?  Well, it will stay up there for a day or two and then slowly slip down the ranks (as unknown books by unknown authors do), replaced by the good-old standbys by established authors and the classics.  I passed Dracula and Amanda Hocking, but they'll slip by me again soon.

Now, let's take a look at the true effects of free books.

Okay, let's be honest... people see something for free, they snatch it up.  it happens with music, it happens with books.  People will go to the top 100 Kindle books, go to the top 100 in the genres they like, and they'll download anything that looks even remotely interesting.  Why not?  It's free and takes up minimal space on their device.  But how many people will actually read it?  A half?  A Quarter?  Ten percent?  We as writers have no idea.  And most people will not read it right away.  And I'm one of those people; I have tons of free stuff on my Droid X and i read it when i read it.  So there is the first hurdle:  how many people actually read the free stuff and when will they read it.

Now comes the conversion aspect: how many of those people actually become fans who are willing to pay for yourself.  Again, we'll never really know.  But I think it has less to do with price and more to do with time.  So you've uploaded a book and now 2500 people have downloaded it.  And 250 people have read it.  How many of them will actually buy a book from you?  This isn't the seventies.  Or eighties.  Or even nineties ,when there was no or little internet and only thirty television channels.  People read to entertain themselves and all they had to read was what the Big 6 gave them. 

But today, int eh 21st century, we have internet and web show and movies on demand and hundreds of channels and people who read, people who are willing to look Indie, have a plethora of choices.  More than ever.  And like I said earlier, I don;t think it is the $.99 or $2.99 price tag which affects whether or not people will read you.  It's whether or not you're worth their TIME.  Let's be honest, time is at a premium with so much to entertain us, and if someone is going to buy a book, they have to commit the TIME, which is worth a lot more than a couple of books.  I know about if I spend 3-4 hours reading a book and I don't like it, I'm more upset about the wasted time than the $.99.  So if someone reads a free story and is bored, or there are too many spelling/grammar issues, then they won't want to waste their time buying something from you.

So do Indie writers get new fans from free books.  I'm sure.  It's just not going to be evident right away because people generally don't read books the day they download it, if they even read it at all.  It can be weeks, or months, even (though I think people will read short stories sooner because the size allows for a quick diversion instead of a large time investment).  So it may take time.  It can take weeks or months. 

But I know one thing: the lack of instant gratification won't deter me from offering free books.  The more that I publish, the more my name is out there.  The more chances of someone telling a friend about me.  The more chances that someone will review something.  The more chances someone will be intrigued and buy a $.99 novella.  And if a free short leads to a single fan, well, it's done its job, hasn't it?


  1. For what it's worth, I found this blog after having read your freebie "Blink" on my brand-new Kindle. I was attracted to the story because 1.) I co-wrote and helped direct an independent film called Blink, so the title caught my attention and
    2.) The eyeball on the cover and the blurb intrigued me; I wondered what the possible link between eyeballs and teeth could be.

    It was a fun read, and now I will be lurking around more often :)

  2. Thanks, glad you enjoyed. I generally don't blog about anything interetsing. I always wonder where writers who have day jobs find the time to blog. I try to write soemthign between patients once in a while. Anyway...
    Every story has a story behind it, and I wish I could actually say I had a patient with an eyeball tongue ring that inspired Blink, but alas, I have not. Yet. Maybe one day. It would make the day more interesting. So what was your "Blink" about? There are many, many books and movies out there called Blink.

  3. I hear you. Between working full-time and moonlighting as an author, I'm doing pretty good to have any time to think, much less blog ;)

    Our Blink was about a nurse who is avenging a rape committed against her...except she might have the wrong guy, and she might not have really been the victim.

    It's about 30 minutes of fairly exquisite "torture porn" (a la Saw and Hostel) broken up by some pretty fun dialogue. It's tied up in post-production atm (the director also has entirely too many daily requirements) but one day hopefully we'll find a way to push it out in the world. It was a lot of fun to make, regardless.

    It's cool that you're a dentist/horror writer. Do you have any talking carnivorous plants I should worry about?