I’m coming around to the way of thinking that giving something away free is a good thing.
Against this attitude is the notion that every free gift is a lost sale. More than that, given the ability of computers to copy and share data with the greatest of ease, every free gift could mean countless lost sales. We all know about piracy. But the important question to ask is, when someone downloads your novel and enjoys a free read, would they have bought it otherwise? Speaking from personal experience, I’m willing to bet that the answer in most cases is no.
I once downloaded a free ebook of the novella Purity from Douglas Clegg’s website. Was I considering buying it? Nope. However, after reading it and enjoyed it a great deal, I was then on the lookout for Clegg’s work, and at one point I picked up Neverland in paperback.
One thing I’ve learned about self-publishing is that it’s about overcoming hurdles. The major one that sinks most indie authors is that they fall victim to releasing an overpriced paperback that few readers are willing to pay for. I managed to beat that one. But there’s another major hurdle that I’m only scratching the surface of: Hardly anyone knows who I am.
On a good day, I might get forty unique hits on my website. Some of those, statistically, will be brand new visitors encountering me for the first time. I’ve gone to the trouble of making my site as visually appealing as my skills allow. Visitors are encouraged to find out more about my latest novel, Chion. The book cover is on display; the blurb is listed; there’s even a decent-sized excerpt in both text and audio formats. You can do everything that you could do if you had found the novel on a bookstore shelf. Incidentally, I’m amazed at how many self-published authors don’t avail themselves of these benefits, especially with the bad rep that self-publishing has due to the torrent of unedited works for sale out there. Some indie authors expect the public to buy on the strength of a picture and a scrap of text. Forget it! But hey, there’s something I have to face: hardly anyone who visits my site buys my book anyway. Is this some failure on my part to hook the potential buyer? I honestly don’t think so. And I can back that up with a theory.
In stark contrast to the forty visits and zero sales per day my website receives, each copy of Chion (with a few exceptions), listed as a “Buy It Now” auction on eBay, sells successfully, and usually before the listing has accrued forty views. What causes this alarming difference in sales? The book is the same price, both on my website and on eBay, and is presented with the same hooks. So here’s my theory: You have to catch the web surfer when he’s in the mood to buy something. My novel sells on eBay because shopping is in the surfer’s mind when he’s there. Conversely, his credit card is probably the last thing on his mind when he comes across my site as a result of a Google search or a link.
Now, here’s a thought. How about I give an entire novel away free on my website? Chances are, instead of losing a sale that would never have happened anyway, what I stand to gain is a fan. Up till now, I’ve held the conviction that it’s enough to hand over a sizeable excerpt to readers, but now I’m not so sure. Friend and fellow writer James Maxon debates that there’s something far more attractive to the potiential reader about having the whole package. People will be more likely to begin reading an ebook if they know they have the choice to complete it. How much better is that than to have them think, “Well, it’s only twelve pages and then I have to stop. Don’t know if I’ll bother.” The problem is this: in order to motivate someone to read an excerpt, you have to already get them in the mood to buy the book. In the wrong mood, reading an unfinishable work will be considered time wasted. And as I’ve already illustrated, people are not usually in a buying mood when they visit a random website. I would never have have read Douglas Clegg’s Purity if there was merely an excerpt on offer, presented with a buy-it-if-you-want-to-finish-it option. There’s no shame in going about it that way; a worker deserves his wages. But it just doesn’t work.
It could be argued that I’m already giving away free complete fiction, in the form of short stories, and it hasn’t made much of a difference to sales. Actually, it’s worth noting that some people have told me they bought my novel on the strength of downloading one of my stories. But that’s beside the point. The purpose of free stuff is not to get a quick sale. It’s to crack the problem of hardly anyone knowing about you – to create as many people as possible who love your work and who check back often to see what you’re up to. Then, maybe years down the line, when the fanbase is large enough, you might be able to do some significant book-selling. To create that situation, you’ll need more than a couple of free short stories. Isn’t this exactly what Scott Sigler did? He released three or four novels over time in audio form, got really popular, then released a paperback and soared to the forefront of Amazon’s charts.
It all boils down to this: Don’t underestimate the value of creating a fan.
So, I’m going to throw caution to the wind. Here’s a free PDF file of Chion for a start. Read it, copy it, post it anywhere! Ulterior will follow shortly, as well as a massive flood of videos, courtesy of YouTube: the entire Midnight Pictures catalogue, no less. Brace yourself.
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