On more than one occasion, I have heard non-series writers complain about series writers and their freebie ebooks. I get it. It does seem like series writers have the marketing advantage. However, that wouldn’t be true if a few things would happen.
For starters, let me say that I am not a KDP Select author. This means I can’t use the majority of their marketing tools for any of my ebooks. There are no discount or freebie days for me without jumping through a number of hoops. I’m fine with this because I make about 1/4 of my income from iBooks, a little more than half from Amazon, and the rest from Nook and assorted retailers.
But I’ve been at it a while and I have more than one or two books published (I can’t remember the actual number off the top of my head, I think it’s more than 20 now though). For first timers, I think KDP Select is a great option. No, you aren’t on every site as an ebook, but the majority of sales come from Amazon and being able to use their marketing tools does help.
Currently, I think until you have 3 books published, you should stay enrolled in KDP Select. After three, it’s time to branch out and explore other areas to get readers – but we’ll talk about that in a minute. KDP Select allows you to make your ebook free or discounted for 5 days every three months. If you plan your marketing correctly to boost your downloads on those free days, it can gain you readers fast.
When you are getting ready to publish book 4, you should widen your market. First, you’ve already got 3 books to upload to Nook, iBooks, Smashwords, and a slew of other places and books sell more books. Second, at this point, even if you aren’t writing a series, you can make one of them a freebie without it hurting you.
Why would you make one book free if it isn’t part of a series? Because reading is about more than just plot lines. It’s about the way an author writes. I love Gail Carriger. Not because I’m really into steampunk or fantasy, but because the way she writes and the words she chooses amuses me. Even when I’m not that into a book by her, I will finish it, because I never know what gem is going to come out of the pages. Readers like writer’s styles; the way they use words, what words they use, the way they form sentences, explain ideas and concepts, and the most basic thing ever – the way a writer uses language inflection – are all just as important to readers as the plot.
This means even if you don’t write a series, your books sell your other books. Making one freebie ebook for a non-series writer is no different than making one freebie ebook for a series writer. If someone likes your stuff, they will buy the others, even if it isn’t a series.
The other thing I have noticed is that non-series writers seem to believe there are more series readers. This isn’t true. Most readers are happy to read both. The average reader reads a book or two a month. Most series writers take between 4-12 months to put out a new book in a series, possibly longer. During that time between series books, they have to find other things to read. Now, there are series-only readers, but there are non-series only readers too, but those are exceptions. The majority of readers just want to read a good book. My favorite book of all time is a stand alone novel, Good Omens. Oddly, I’m not a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s or Terry Pratchett’s books. I’ve tried them, but they just aren’t my thing. However, I own Good Omens in hardback, paperback, ebook, audiobook, and if I’m being honest, I have two paperback copies because every time I loan it out, it disappears. My favorite authors of all time are HP Lovecraft and Clive Barker. Lovecraft didn’t really write novels even, he was a short storiest, like Poe. Barker has a series or two and he has some intertwining of a few books, but the majority of them work as stand alones and again, he writes a lot of short stories that I love. Now, this is coupled with the series and novel intertwining that I do read (Jack Kilborn, Blake Crouch, Stephen King, and Gail Carriger are among my favorites here).
Now, let’s get this out of the way… I don’t think of freebie ebooks as giving my ebooks away. Yes, they are a marketing tool, but they are also a loyalty program where you get your free stuff up front. If a reader likes my books, they are going to come back and buy the others. Meaning they bought 4 ebooks and got an ebook free (with one series since there are currently 3 of them free right now). Who doesn’t like a loyalty card or perks for spending money?
When I think of marketing, I don’t think like a writer, I think like a reader. I have to put my money-grubbing brain to the side and think about what I like as a reader and yeah, I love freebie ebooks because I feel like I have been double rewarded when I find an author I like/love. Not only have I found an author I like or love, but while I bought all their other books, I still got one of them free – in some cases, it’s buy 12, get 1 free, but I’m okay with that too. The reader in me agrees that authors should be paid for their work, but it also knows that I can’t afford to read 10 books a week or so, so that freebie is amazing.
Finally, ebooks have revolutionized not just writing, but reading. When I read paperbacks, I found I was getting headaches, read slower, and my reading glasses would make my nose hurt. However, on my tablet… I read three times as fast, I do not require my reading glasses because I can make the font bigger, and the bright screen with the dark words doesn’t give me a headache like struggling to read words on a cream piece of paper that has shadows on it. I went from reading one or two books a week to reading an average of ten books a week. I can give you a great example of exactly how much faster I read an ebook: I read The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker on my tablet, it took me about 2 hours. My BFF got me the hardback, which is gorgeous and also had to be read. It took me a little over 6 hours to read the hardback…. Now, that’s with me having already read the book once and having the time to dedicate to the reading and it still took me three times as long to read the hardback as the ebook.
That was a Holy Rusted Metal, Batman moment for me. Since I can adjust my tablet to make reading easier for me, I read much much faster. I have since read several old favorites of mine, including Good Omens, on my tablet and I do read them faster than the print copies. I also retain more when I read the ebooks because I’m not straining or stressing to read the printed words on that fucking cream paper (that is why all my books are on white paper, by the way). Until ebooks, I didn’t realize just how much I hated cream paper for books, but now that indies have become a big thing along with ebooks, I would much rather have the ebook or the white paper with black text than a book with cream paper. I read the black on white faster than the black on cream too. Not as fast as I do an ebook, but still faster.
Anyway, since I read much faster on a tablet, I go through far more ebooks than I ever could print books. This means my book budget either has to seriously increase or I need to find freebies… And I subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. Yes, ebooks are cheaper, but I’d still be spending a small fortune on ebooks if it weren’t for freebies, because after that initial freebie, most ebooks are $3.99 or $4.99 and a traditionally published author can be 3 or 4 times that. I used to think that I was a fluke and it was just me that read ebooks faster, but I have talked to scores of people that say the same thing; they read faster on a tablet, Nook, or Kindle. So a person that used to read one print book a week might now be reading three ebooks a week. I don’t know what kind of budgets most people have for books, but I know spending $300 or $400 on books a month is a significant chunk of change for me… it’s a student loan payment or a car payment. But that’s what I would be spending if I paid for every book I read. And don’t mention libraries, because I’m banned from mine – I forget to return books after I read them – consistently – and I have bought the library replacement copies on numerous occasions – about six years ago, they had decided enough was enough and they yanked my library card.
This means it doesn’t matter if you write a series or only write stand alones or only write collections of short stories, you can offer freebies and it will sell your other books. Readers like authors, not just books. Series just look like they sell easier and better because they build on each other. But an author who crafts a good stand alone, sells their other books just as easily as a series writer. Don’t believe me? Ask RL Stein or Tom Clancy or Robin Cook… (I left out James Patterson because he does both series and standalones, however, he is also the single most successful author in the world right now, so…)