It’s an oxymoronic truth in almost all forms of commercial art: The more you give away, the more you sell. There’s very little I could add to this that Neil Gaiman hasn’t already covered. As he discovered with American Gods, when he offered an entire novel for free on his website, sales exploded. He had to fight tooth and nail with Harper Collins to get permission to do this (with his own work, no less), and even afterward, I’m sure the fine people at Harper thought it all some big coincidence. But it’s something that Kindle Authors are learning and even quantifying.
On the Kindle Board forums, there’s an 87 page thread about going “free” on the Kindle store and the effect is has on rankings and sales. Amazon must know how powerful this tool is, they only give us 5 free days for every three months. Authors agonize over when and how to employ their days. Two in a row? Three? Spaced out over the months? And then there are the websites we hope and pray to get a mention on: Pixel of Ink, E-Reader News Today, and dozens more.
Most authors spend many hours preparing for their free day. There are forms to fill out at the above websites, admins to email and beg, a lot of sitting around with fingers crossed, hoping.
The first time I offered Wool for free, 14,000 people downloaded it in a single day. Of course, a slim fraction likely read the story; one imagines there are digital hoarders who snag hundreds of free books with no time or inclination to read them all. But some must have read the story, because reviews took a bounce. As did sales and ranking.
Last week, The Plagiarist went free for two days. This short story has been one of my most obscure. It’s about the length of Wool and similar in theme if not in tone. It was ranked in the high thousands before it went free. Afterward?
In the top 300 of the entire Kindle store. With 12 new reviews, which should entice others to give it a try. It’s #1 in one sub-category and #2 in two others (behind Wool Omnibus. )
Here’s another area where the ignorance of big publishers stymies good authors like Neil Gaiman and gives us indie folk a shot. If they knew what they were doing, they would offer some of their books for free as well, squeezing us out of the top lists. Their sales would undoubtedly go up. It has been proven over and over by both traditional authors and indies.
But this kind of flexibility and forward-thinking is in short supply. It requires doing something great for readers and trusting the process to reward you in the long run. One more reason I enjoy having control over my product and being able to work directly with my audience, rather than through someone else.