Book marketing and book sales are tough, but it’s possible to make a success of promotions using free giveaways to achieve ebook and print book sales. It can be hard to get this information openly revealed in one place, so I’m revealing all and giving actual statistics in a set of articles.
I experimented with a giveaway in November and learnt from the experience with one ebook so that successful methods could be applied to a second giveaway. The ebook went viral on Amazon in the UK. By this I mean there were downloads every second even if we did nothing to promote it.
I should make it clear, in answer to some queries, that I don’t count this as ‘viral’ because we gave away a lot of ebooks. It went viral in that we didn’t need to do anything and the downloads were continuous. As professional publishers we can’t nag individuals to take a free ebook to support us – people who may then let the freebie languish on their ereader or computer. We need a meaningful giveaway that we promote as professionally and discreetly as we would any other book launch. We have to let people decide for themselves whether or not they want the book.
Even if you aren’t thinking of a giveaway, many of these tips can be used to get a ‘paid for’ book high in the Amazon rankings, and getting high in the rankings is the key to going viral because potential readers and buyers find your book easily when browsing their favourite genres. I’ll cover the subject of ‘paid for’ books’ in another article, and you need a much lower number of daily downloads to succeed with paid books (which is still hard to sustain).
To help authors and publishers do the same thing I’m going to explain the methods used. But first I’m going to answer a question I’ve been asked by other publishers during the giveaways. They want to know if giveaways devalue all books because people might start to expect ebooks to be free.
The answer we have found is that the opposite is true. During and after the giveaways we sell more ebooks and more print books. This lasted throughout December after the experiment with our first novel giveaway.
December is a slow month for small publishers in the UK as buyers tend to get the books major publishers are putting huge promotional budgets into for the Christmas market, and bookshops actually return a lot of books to publishers to clear the shelves for these bestselling books. They won’t accept any new books until January.
Like other small publishers we give special festive offers to attract people to buy direct from website but the giveaway was a much bigger help than these traditional promotions. We had one of our best months so far for both print books and ebooks and I’m sure the giveaway helped with this. So my conclusion is that a giveaway doesn’t devalue print books and actually leads to more sales.
The book given away also helps get the author’s name very widely known and can reach an international market if the promotion is done well, and this leads to more of their other books being sold. After the giveaway the book that was given away also continued to sell, as reviews started to make their way onto the internet later. With the second book, the sales after the giveaway were high enough to keep the author on the front page in the ‘paid book’ rankings for Thrillers, so the book is still selling itself.
We have also decided that it works to keep ebook prices lower, as this not only leads to more ebook sales, but also leads to more print book sales, in our experience.The royalty for a traditionally published author on an ebook at a low price is quite close to the royalty of a paperback (where the royalty is 10% of cover price due to our higher production costs) so this works out well for authors. Even at our lower ebook price of about £1.50 the author gets a royalty of about 50p as Amazon and other costs take a third, and the rest is divided 50/50 between the author and publisher under the terms of our contract.
So, what are the techniques for getting an ebook to go viral on Amazon? First of all it has to be an excellent book as people won’t support a giveaway otherwise. I believe people know they can trust certain publishers to be producing good books, so you have to build that reputation, and they also trust authors who have endorsements from magazines and known authors on the front cover, if that’s possible. These endorsements can be taken from reviews, and it also helps if there are good reviews and ratings on the Amazon page, so do optimise that page by encouraging reviews, ‘Likes’, and star ratings.
So the first tip is not to give away poor quality books in order to promote your other books. If a book is excellent people downloading it will also download other books by the same author, or the same publishing company, especially if there’s another book in the same series. They are also buying more ebooks from across our list as they like this one. Don’t give away anything less than your best writing. It’s your showcase to the world. If a book has already been out in paperback (or as an ebook) for more than a year, it’s worth doing a giveaway as it has had time to prove itself. I have seen publishers and authors launch a new book with a giveaway but this isn’t our approach.
We learnt from the first giveaway that it’s vital to set a low price for the ebook, so that after the giveaway it will revert to this price and this will help keep it high in the ‘paid’ Kindle rankings, as people who have just missed the giveaway will still be tempted if the price isn’t too high. The Amazon servers update slowly, so a book manages to stay high in the free Kindle rankings for about a day even if it has a price.
We also learnt the importance of being in the right categories. Amazon allows two categories for a Kindle book so we put this book in Crime and Thrillers. In fact we have now learnt that you can put a book in a subcategory and it’s also in all the higher categories.
There are thrillers in Action and Adventure and it’s easier to get a ranking in the Adventure subcategories, so if you have this kind of book you might want to consider it as a step into the rankings. The same is true of other genres and categories – research into books like yours can show how the successful authors and publishers are getting high rankings. Which categories are they in? You can find this if they are high in the rankings as the various categories they are in will be listed on their book pages, just below the detailed information on the book (publisher, ISBN etc). If they aren’t selling enough to get into the rankings you won’t be able to see their categories.
You can change the categories during a giveaway and it’s worth doing this if you need to as you really must get into the top 20 ranking for a category. Our first giveaway novel got high in Literary Fiction, while the second got high in Thrillers. Some categories are easier to get high in, and it’s worth choosing an easy-to-get-into category to help increase the downloads by making the book highly visible to people searching for books in their favourite genre.
Thrillers is a difficult category to succeed in – it took 400 downloads a day in the UK alone to get Joe into the top 10. But you can aim for a subcategory in some genres and move up. 50 downloads a day could get you a top 10 ranking in the lower subcategories. (20 downloads a day can maintain a ranking once the book reverts to ‘paid’ status). Research has shown the top three bestselling genres are Crime (48%) followed by sci fi and literary fiction (both in the lower 20% bracket). Romance and erotica also sell well but, surprisingly for some, are lower than these other genres. We only needed 50 downloads in a day to be in the top 15 for Literary Fiction, so it was much harder with Crime and Thrillers than with other genres, even though you would have a larger potential target market.
Sorry if this sounds complicated but it makes sense when you are setting up your Kindle book. When choosing a category you are given a list of possibilities and when you choose fiction, nonfiction etc you are given all the subcategories. Click on them to find the subcategories of subcategories. When potential buyers look for books on Amazon they do the same thing, searching for fiction/nonfiction and then being offered subcategories. Amazon actually has one of the best methods of helping buyers search for books in their favourite genres.
The next step we took was to have a Facebook event for the launch of the giveaway (and we also had a Facebook event for the final day), with links to the book on Amazon sites and a reminder that people don’t need a Kindle. They can download the free Kindle reading app from Amazon. It’s also important to let people know they have to use the Amazon site for their own country, or many get confused that they can’t see the offer if they click on a link to the wrong site. You do need to build a large Facebook group for an event to help get a giveaway started, and you do need to be patient as many people do want their hands to be held. The clearer your messages the better the pick-up rate of the giveaway will be and the fewer requests for help you will get.
We then sent a message to nearly 500 members of the Written Word social network and notices to about 2,000 writers and book lovers in the virtual world of Second Life. People on Second Life are very supportive and interested in new technologies, including the latest experiments with ebooks, and the two bloggers who helped by writing about the giveaway were both from there. So it can help to be involved in various social networks for writers to build more of a following, or contacts list.
For the second giveaway we added Goodreads into the social networks for writers and readers we used. If you join a number of groups on Goodreads you will find that each group has one forum to allow author/publisher promotions, and you can put news of a giveaway in those. It definitely made a difference on our second day, when downloads were starting to slow down. At that point the ebook was nearly in the top 100 ranking for all books on Kindle but not quite.
You can also Google websites that let you list free Kindle books and you will find quite a few of the good ones listed. Some of these sites will promote your giveaway, but do look closely at them as some of them want you to notify them a month in advance.
You can also list your giveaway in a daily thread on the Kindle forums for your country’s Amazon website. They like people to put all the giveaways in the same thread for each day, and this does also help keep the thread being bumped into first place in the forum as new posts are added.
By putting the notices on Goodreads and also getting some support from two bloggers, in the UK and US, we managed to get our book into the top 100 ranking for all Kindle books on Amazon UK. Once the book was in this top 100 the downloads started to roll in every second, at which point I think we can say it went viral.
Another approach that helped us was that the giveaway was listed on the Hot UK Deals site. We didn’t list this ourselves: somebody found the deal and listed it there and I was told about it. It’s important not to use this site to self-promote in any way as that isn’t permitted, and the site lets members list good deals they find and others can rate the deal as hot or cold. The site is full of wonderful freebies and discounts so it’s very popular, and our book took off as a ‘hot’ deal due to member voting. I’m sure this has helped as the offer stayed on the ‘Hot’ page for about a week. It had thousands of views. I linked to the offer in every way I could (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc), while being careful, as self-promotion can lead to the offer being taken down, so you have to be sure not to cross that line.
When you post news of your own books on Goodreads and other forums, it’s worth keeping an eye on how many views your posts get. Some groups on Goodreads are larger and more active than others. The main response we get is from a different and extremely popular website – Kindle Boards – but if you use them, do be sure only to use their Book Bazaar forum, as self-promotion isn’t allowed anywhere else. The Mobile Reads forum is also good, but again it’s vital only to post where author self-promotions are allowed as the admins of these sites are very quick to remove people otherwise.
You do need to be prepared to put time and effort into the initial promotion so that a book can go viral, and I find it’s best to have a 5-day giveaway, the maximum Amazon allows in a season. This gives enough time to move up in the rankings, and as some books are on shorter giveaways they will vanish from above you. Of course you do need to keep a high number of downloads per day to maintain your position. Groups on LinkedIn provide an extra place where you can be taking part in discussions about ebooks and talking about your giveaway or promotion.
The more of these approaches you can use in the first day, the more chance you have of getting a high ranking and going viral so the book starts to do the work itself. It’s a lot to do on your own, so careful planning and others allocated to do various tasks would help. But for most of us it really is a go-it-alone process, or an author-and-publisher process.
Authors can help by building a good email circular list, and this can work even for authors who aren’t good at being self-promotional. Your email list is incredibly important, especially if you are an author, as you can encourage friends and family to support you. Just sharing the giveaway on their Facebook wall, tweeting about it, or mentioning it on a blog, will make an important contribution.
In fact, seeing the book getting higher did get people excited about helping, and sometimes being given a book encourages people to enjoy the fun of this challenge and the thrill as a book moves up in the top 100. People who have received the giveaway can feel a commitment to helping the book succeed if you rally them to your side.
One final tip I would give is that authors do need to ask people to help out with a blog or a share on Facebook and Twitter and so on, and I do the same on their behalf. We do have to be careful not to nag and spam people so I don’t push anybody. But it seems support isn’t given unless you ask. People need to be invited to take books, or to buy books, or to help with a blog. Even if you ask, you’re unlikely to get more than a few shares and retweets, and just a couple of blogs. But they can make that difference and push you up into a ranking that helps you go viral.