This week I'm experimenting with the free ebook giveaway idea until Wednesday. So that this experiment will be useful to other authors and publishers I'm going to be completely open about the number of people who take the book, the techniques used, and the pros and cons of this idea. Some of this is hard to find unless somebody tells you, especially the number of books you need to give away in order to get to a good point in the Amazon rankings so that you're visible to readers beyond your own contact list.
I'll start with the figure you all want to know. In the first two days 220 people have downloaded the book. More than 100 were in the US, 85 in the UK, 1 in Spain and 2 in Germany. The higher figure in the US, despite the fact I'm a British author based in London, helps to show the importance of an engagement with social networks in order to reach out to international readers.
It also shows that ebooks are vital as it's almost impossible for many publishers to get their printed books stocked and sold in other countries due to the cost of sending them combined with the demands of bookshop managers for big discounts that would put publishers into a loss. In the US, Ireland and UK bookshops tend to want to buy only from their wholesalers, so unless you can get stocked by their wholesalers it's almost impossible to sell to some countries.
Although bookdepository.com is excellent for supplying UK books to the US, Amazon only supplies books stocked by its wholesalers. We're stocked by the major wholesalers, but many aren't so it's a huge problem. So ebooks are the most effective way for authors and publishers to become internationally known and read. One problem is that potential readers don't realise they can only use the Amazon site for their country to download ebooks, which no doubt loses a lot of takers as it's complicated giving links to all regional websites. There are also some strange factors (such as ebook sales to Ireland going through the US Amazon website only).
Giving ebooks away isn't as easy as you might think, even though I'm a publisher with a track record as a published author. With so many people contacting me every day asking me to download their free ebook, my main fear was that nobody (or very few people) would take it. People are inundated with requests from their friends to accept and read a free book. This could be worrying for people selling printed books and ebooks, but one of the main surprises is that the giveaway has led to a flurry of interest in the printed books, and sales have increased. A printed book costs less than a visit to a coffee shop for a drink and a cake, so maybe this isn't so surprising. Paying or getting a book free isn't perhaps as important a factor in reader choice as we imagine.
But a free gift of an ebook people already quite fancy is going to tempt them to make that step and actually get it. The second question that will be on your mind is how many people I had to promote to in order to get about 200 takers. The maths for this seems quite simple. I have two main social networks I can promote to, both with contacts involved in books and writing, and the total number of contacts is just over 2,000. So, in the first two days I seem to have about 10% take-up of the offer. I'll keep you updated on the figures as I move into the second half of the promotional period.
To some of you 200 will seem like an excellent figure. '200 new people discovering your book' another author said to me. But in fact they aren't 200 new people. They are people who have been on my Facebook list because they have a particular interest in writing and publishing, and in the virtual world of Second Life, where I have been organising a large voluntary project for writers for 6 years. When you look at it this way, 200 might seem quite low and shows just how many 'friends' truly interested in our projects we really have on social networks. However, some only log on occasionally so it was probably a good idea to run the giveaway for the full 5 days Amazon allow in any season all in one go.
An unexpected bonus was the feeling it gives to see so many contacts downloading the book, reading it at the same time as each other, and giving feedback to me. It's a time when many people are short of money, and those who love books tend to buy too many and try to cut down, so it's rare to have this sudden burst of 'book sales' and simultaneous reading by many. It's usually an experience that only bestselling authors can enjoy.
With 200 downloads the book got to 835th position in the Amazon sales ranking for free books in the UK, and just over 2,000th in the US. People in each country can only download from one Amazon site and the rankings are based on the total for each location. I'm starting to see the downloads starting to grow in Germany, Spain and France.
What are the best ways to promote a giveaway without making your friends and contacts feel 'spammed'. I sent out a notice to the publishing company group, inviting members to an 'event' during the giveaway. I also invited friends and contacts from my personal Facebook friends list to an 'event' with a link to the Amazon sites as the location. Apart from the problem of people clicking on the wrong Amazon site for their country, this did work well. The downside to this is that some people don't realise they should turn off group notifications if group discussions become active and start arriving in their email. During a giveaway a group wall will get active so brace yourself for people getting irritated and it's important to remind people how to turn off notifications. Luckily I only had one complaint, but he made it very public on my wall - in fact you may find that you get trolls.
I then also sent group notices to the writing groups I have on Second Life. I have to say, I found the Second Life bookloving community very supportive and this will be part of the reason the downloads are higher in the US than the UK. They also account for the downloads to France and Spain. People on Second Life tend to be technology lovers as well as booklovers, and many of them are enthusiastic about ebooks. It's a mutually supportive environment for writers on Second Life, and I was touched by the number of people who shared the news on their Facebook wall and also on blogs without being asked to help.
At this point I have done as much as I can with my social networks without driving people crazy with reminders to take the book if they would like it. I have to be very careful as a traditionally published author and a publisher as I mustn't do anything to damage my own reputation or that of the authors with Ward Wood Publishing. I didn't send reminders to the group, or to friends individually, after the first invitation.
A self-published author probably should go for it with even more gusto, contacting friends to remind them to download the book, and letting them know how and why it can help. This might be the only way many authors can head up the Amazon rankings during their giveaway period, and the book could then go viral if it gets into the top 100 or top 10.
It will also help if the book is in the right Categories in your Kindle settings. I hadn't selected these myself and you do need to check that your publisher has put you in the main categories you feel are right. Amazon only allow two categories and my book had mistakenly been put in Women's Fiction (which it isn't) and General Fiction. This lost me about 12 hours of the giveaway period as I had to have it changed to Literary Fiction and Humour. Being in the wrong category (and I really don't consider my book Women's Fiction) not only makes it hard for readers to find what they want, but the correct niches give a book a better chance of getting high in its particular category.
So this is the point I'm at. I need to use some additional methods for the final half of the giveaway and will explain them in another post and how effective they are. Any feedback on your own giveaways, and also ebook sales, with tips, pros and cons, will be very welcome. And thanks to all who have dowloaded the book! I would love to see links to any reviews and feedback, good and bad, and also any places you have shared news of the giveaway.