In Defense of the Freebie

My novel The Unicorn’s Daughter is currently free (in ebook format) at Amazon–and not doing too shabbily!

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,741 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)

      #4 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Espionage

      #323 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Contemporary

I know many authors, self-published and indie-published, who are opposed to free ebook promotions. “I’m not giving books away,” they say. “Why should I just give away my hard work? This isn’t a hobby!”

Why? I can think of a few excellent reasons. The main reason would be to increase readership. Most of the authors objecting to free book promotions are new authors, usually self-published, with no name recognition, no reader following. Most readers are understandably cautious buyers these days. Now that anyone can publish a book, there’s a lot of books out there that, sadly, aren’t so good.

The best thing about self-publishing is also the worst thing about self-publishing: anyone can do it. So how are readers supposed to find the good books in a sea of unfamiliar authors? They’ll be more willing to take a chance if they have nothing to lose.

Even conventional publishers have done free book promotions. Back when I was at the beginning of my career, my publisher often launched new authors with free book promotions. In the late 1980s, there were no ebooks, so publishers gave away a number of freebies–usually 1500 paperback copies. They would take out an ad in a national magazine which included a short form to be completed and mailed to the publisher. The first 1500 received would get a book by mail.

Sometimes, they would offer a money-back coupon. If anyone bought a book and didn’t like it, the publisher would refund the price of the book. That worked, too.

Berkley did a free book promo for my second novel, Angels at Midnight. I was happy to have them do it. I’m still happy to have my current publisher do free ebook promotions. I hate doing my own marketing, so anything Creativia chooses to do is fine with me. If giving away a few hundred books boosts sales for books that have been around for 10-20 years, why not?

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“Hurry Up and Wait!”

I’ve been a published author for almost thirty years now, and I’m still amazed at how some things have changed dramatically–while other things remain the same.

When I started out, I thought I knew everything. Everything. After all, I’d read every book I could find on “the biz.” I read all of the writers’ magazines. What was there to learn that I didn’t already know? A great deal, as it turned out.

I started writing my first (published) novel, Alexander’s Empire (later retitled Dance of the Gods by my publisher, and now reissued under the original title) in 1981. After working on the manuscript on lunch breaks and after Collin was tucked into bed at night, I queried my agent in May 1984. She responded quickly, asking for a detailed synopsis and sample chapters. In June, I got a response, asking for a phone meeting, during which she instructed me to send the entire manuscript. The next time we talked, in September, she started with, “This manuscript is completely unpublishable.”

“Hold on,” I told her, “while I go slit my wrists.”

She quickly explained that it could be made publishable with some work. She told me that it reminded her a great deal of a novel she’d repped that had been her first New York Times bestseller (she’s since had at least 100 of those, and many more national bestsellers). She believed my novel could also be a bestseller. Okay, I forgot all about that wrist-slitting business. Things were definitely looking up. She was sending me her agency agreement. I couldn’t sign it fast enough.

What followed was months of blood-letting–or that’s how it felt, anyway–as we worked together, restructuring the story, reinventing the characters, editing, revising, polishing, until she was satisfied it was ready for submission. I had gone into this figuring that, as an unknown new writer with no previous publishing background, a $5000 advance was the best I could hope for. Maria told me she was going to ask for much more than that. It took her fifteen minutes to get me to stop laughing (okay, maybe not that long). She explained that she would be sending it out to twelve publishers, all of which she felt would be a good fit for me and my novel. She did it in late March. Of the twelve, eight made offers. She weighed each offer carefully and discussed them with me. On the morning of April 26, 1985, she called to tell me that Berkley was the one she’d chosen. At that time, paperback original was the way to go. Build a career, then go to hardcover. She also felt the acquiring editor was someone I would work well with She was right, as it turned out.

Damaris was so enthusiastic about the book that she would end up offering us a contract for my next two books in December–while we were still working on (more) edits for Alexander’s Empire. By the time it was published in May 1988, Berkley would have a total of five of my books under contract–and at that point, I still didn’t know what number five was going to be!

Times have changed. The process of publishing, not so much. It can be a slooooow process. One of my fellow authors once called it the “hurry up and wait syndrome.” The authors are expected to hurry up and then wait on the publisher…and wait, and wait.

But now, authors have other options. When I was starting out, there were only two: traditional publishing and vanity presses, where the author paid to have a contracted number of copies printed and had to figure out on their own how to sell them. Now, we have traditional publishing, vanity presses, self-publishing, and indie publishing. I’ve done three of the four. I’m still amazed that we can finish a book and have it available for sale within a week. Sure, self-published authors have to to their own marketing and promotion, but so do most traditionally-published authors. For anyone not chosen to be a lead title with all of the advertising, promotional and marketing dollars that goes with that position, it can be frustrating. Self-published authors get as much as 90% of the royalties and have full creative control, which at this point in my career is the most important thing. And self-published books can remain in print forever–traditionally-published books that aren’t bestsellers have a limited shelf-life. If the author wants to make any changes to boost sales after publication, self-publishing makes that possible. Try getting that from a traditional publisher!

Indie publishing gives authors the best parts of self-publishing without the grunt work. My current publisher, Creativia, is making great progress in marketing and promotion. I’m more than happy to take a smaller percentage of the royalties to be free of that. They’ve landed many of their authors on the Amazon bestseller list. And now, even the New York Times recognizes self- and indie published books.

It’s good to have options. There are pros and cons for each (except vanity presses–I can’t think of a single good thing about them). I learned a great deal from having been traditionally-published for my first fourteen books that’s served me well as an indie. There are authors who have successfully gone with both traditional publishing and self-publishing. Whatever works!

There’s Safety–and Sales–in Numbers!

Fellow author Mark R. Hunter did a blog post about setting up a booksigning in advance of the Christmas shopping season. I haven’t done a signing in years. It’s so much easier to just do all of the selling online. Besides, I never really enjoyed doing them–unless it was a group signing. Solo signings can be productive, sure–but unless you’re Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, or one of those really big names, it can be pretty quiet, too. (Cue the crickets.)

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I’ve done a number of group signings. And not only do readers show up, sometimes your fellow authors come to cheer you on–like this one, some years ago, at a Waldenbooks store in south St. Louis County, where I live. That’s fellow author Anna Eberhardt, aka Tiffany White, with me–and peeking around from the safety of the bookshelves is Collin, who refused to pose with us but didn’t object to photobombing us!

My favorite group signing was one I did with twenty other authors at a B. Dalton in a large mall. We had a blast! We made snarky remarks at each other and hammed it up for the shoppers, getting us lots of attention. We also sold a lot of books. I didn’t even mind that our car broke down en route and I had to hitch a ride with the aforementioned Anna and her husband, Leo.

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A Trip Back to the Age of “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest”

It’s that time again. Another ebook promotion.

I considered updating my backlist books before reissuing them, but finally decided against it. I still hope to find a new audience for these old books, but really want to focus what little is left of my attention span to writing new books. It takes me a lot longer than it used to. This old gray mare really ain’t what she used to be (and yes, I know ain’t isn’t really a word).

So, while I try to finish the new stuff, here’s a special promotion price, now through Friday, for the ebook edition of Alexander’s Empire, my first published novel (originally published by Berkley as Dance of the Gods back in May 1988). If you’re interested, the promo is exclusive to Amazon!

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6/7/16: Hmmm…not bad for an old book….

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