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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

A personal perspective of indie publishing by top selling author, Lizzie Lamb

When I self-published Tall, Dark and Kilted (October 2013), there was much talk of Amazon changing the algorithms.

The what?

My head was so full of ITIN/ISBN/W8-BEN/uploading/downloading that there was no room for another buzz word. So I filed it away and concentrated on launching Tall Dark and Kilted and organising five book launches with the other members of my indie publishing group: The New Romantics 4.

When the furore of publishing day and book launches abated, I decided to ‘get my name out there’. As a result, I signed up for KDP Select and offered my novel for free download for five days in late December 2012. My intention was to make the most of the pre-Christmas kindle sales and hoped that people who were giving kindles as Christmas presents might download my novel and give it a temporary fillip. 

At that time, it was a widely held belief that if you made your book available for free download it would rocket up the top 100 list and become more ‘visible’. The book would ride on the crest of the wave and continue to sell after the ‘free’ period ended. And indeed, it did all of those things. Over a two day period, Tall Dark and Kilted ‘rose’ to #1 in contemporary romance, #3 in best seller free kindle store (UK) and #25 throughout all books and #9 in contemporary romance (US). All of this was achieved without any promotion whatsoever on my part. I took the novel off free download after two days as I’d given away 12,000 ‘copies’. In retrospect, I should have let it ride for the full five days to see where it would have ended up - and to give myself greater exposure. After all, I was doing this as a sort of ‘experiment.’ Although I quickly disappeared from the top 100 (the algorithm, see), I continued to sell well throughout January, February and into March. I did especially well with ‘borrows’ on the Kindle Prime Loan - which I hadn’t really considered when I joined KDP select.

Fast forward a year to the publication of my second novel: BOOT CAMP BRIDE - romance and intrigue on the Norfolk marshes (November 2013). I did not make it available for free download and here are my reasons why . . .   

(1)  The algorithm has changed and free downloads no longer count towards your overall amazon ranking.

(2)  Savvy readers know that most books will be free at some point and wait for that to happen.

(3)  Some readers have up to 400 free books on their kindle which they have no intention of reading, let alone reviewing. If they don’t read your ‘free’ book, how will they learn about you as a new author, let alone be prepared to buy your next book.

(4)  You may attract readers outside of your genre/readership simply because the book is free. They may hate your book and give it lower star rating because they didn’t ‘get’ you, your novel or your genre. 

(5)  It makes more sense to target readers who purchase books in your genre and build up a readership/following through social networking and word of mouth. I find this is working really well for me, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, my blogs/website and guest appearances on other writers’ blogs.

(6)  Some pundits believe that free downloads don’t work for new authors because they don’t have the necessary readership/sales to keep the book at the top after the promo ends. In retrospect, I think this is probably true.

(7)  I think the amount of free books being given away can be detrimental to authors overall. I mean, come on, anyone who isn’t prepared to pay 99p for something that may have taken up a year (or more) of your life isn’t going to stay with you for the long haul. Are they?

(8)  There is a common perception that free books may not be very good, are unedited, and haven’t been proof checked etc.If a writer has offered free downloads in the past, some readers are prepared to sit it out until the author’s next novel becomes available for free download too.

So - How am I going to promote my next book and the one(s) after that?
I’m exploring ways of making my book ‘ping’ with Amazon and increase its visibility to readers through new review postings, changing categories, honing sub categories, keywords/phrases, changing the pricing, updating the ‘Product Description’ to over 500 words, and asking friends to put it on their Amazon ‘wish list’ or to ‘LIKE’ it on my page. It’s better to have a slow drip of reviews than have them all arrive on your Amazon page within the first month of publication and then never receive another.  As an indie author I can do all of the above with my book without waiting for an agent/publisher to agree and give me the go-ahead.

It will be interesting to see how Boot Camp Bride fares compared to Tall, Dark and Kilted. Watch this space; but above all, download my novels, they cost less than a cappuccino and will never be free. But they will be on offer (for a limited time) as part of a Kindle Countdown deal. More of which, later . . .

Other authors might have a different take on the ‘free’ sales conundrum.
If you have something to share, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Boot Camp Bride - Romance and Intrigue on the Norfolk marshes - November 2013

Tall, Dark and Kilted - Notting Hill Meets Monarch of the Glen - 2012

Lizzie’s Links
twitter: @lizzie_lamb             twitter: @newromantics4


  1. Useful post, Lizzie. I've always held back from the free offers, so like you readers would be advised not to wait for it - it ain't going to happen. My personal view is that when you offer your book for free, you're devaluing it. The book has taken a year of hard work to produce and when you offer it free you're saying it's not worth paying for! Besides, I know when I look at free books on Amazon there's a niggle of doubt in my mind about the quality. After all, if the writer thinks it's worth nothing, then maybe they're right! Mind you, I'm one of those people who thinks that if something's too cheap there must be something wrong with it, and there's no such thing as a free lunch!

  2. Thanks Chris. I think that free downloads was the way to go - at one time! I think I rather missed the boat by the time I self published. Some people are still travelling along that road, but not me. I'm always looking for new ways to get my name 'out there'. It pays to keep a finger on the pulse because the sands are shifting . . .

  3. Excellent post, Lizzie. I've also found that targeting readers of your genre is the better way to go. Since my book is in the historical romance category, I haunt the 18th century blogs, websites, and Mozart groups and get a lot of readers that way. I've given away free PDF copies and gotten more positive feedback from that than I think I ever would have by offering my book(s) for free through Kindle or for 99 cents or less.

  4. Great post, Lizzie. At the same time you gave away yours, I gave away mine, with similar results. This year, after FoR and a one-to-one with the Amazon team, I decided to opt for the new Countdown deals. Not giving away the books but selling them at discounted prices really moved me forward, and earned me royalties. I tried it with one, and the knock-on effect has been good. One book earned enough in one month for many treats, two of which are to fund FoR 2014, and a trip to London in April to meet other authors. Another author contacted and said my interview with him eighteen months ago had suddenly gained 140 hits and for no apparent reason. We think it has to do with keyword hits. I will use countdown again as I've gained new readers, and kept DH's nerves from jaggling at the mention of the word, free! :)

  5. I think you've made some very good points here, Lizzie. I certainly agree that free downloads don't mean that people are going to read your book. Trouble with them, is that it is too easy to click and download with Kindle, and we end up with too much and not enough time to read. Some people make a career getting things free, and with books it takes time to get through them. I agree too that by offering freebees you attract a readership who will not buy unless you're lucky and they suddenly realise they've been reading the wrong genre all their life after reading your freebee! Good post!

  6. Thank you for all your insightful comments. Kindle Cowntdown is a great sakes ploy. Glynis has just reminded me that I need to investigate the whole KEYWORDS issue more thoroughly.

  7. Good post - thanks for opening up on the subject. I've wondered if including "coming attractions" at the back of free books might act as a form of free advertising, but obviously if the downloads don't get read, the adverts don't get seen!

  8. Informative and insightful post, Lizzie. Thank you for your wise words.

  9. Thanks for sharing, Lizzie Lamb. Will be checking out your books and helping get the word out to fellow readers that a great author is on the rise:) Keep on writing.

  10. Wise words.
    Thank you, I'm tweeting this, every new author needs wisdom.