Those of you who have been following my publishing process might be wondering why the one book I have out so far—Unintended Guardian—is free.
After all, it costs money—potentially lots of money—to publish a book. On that short story, I paid for editing, cover design, and formatting, and now that Amazon has caught up with the freebie price in all their stores (except for Germany, Mexico, and Japan—the slackers), I’m not making any money to recoup those costs.
That sounds like a good way to go broke, right? *smile*
Well, let me fill you in on my publishing plan, and we’ll take a look at when it might make sense to give our books away for free…
The Six Elements of Success for Indie Authors
Over a year ago, I ran a couple of posts with insights from a survey of self-published authors. Beverly Kendall conducted a survey with questions to dig into whether self-published authors who strive for professional quality find more success.
Her survey results indicated that those who received professional editing and have a professional cover are more likely to earn more money. Duh, right?
But her survey revealed other surprising insights as well. In particular, her report delved into the six elements that help maximize income for self-published authors:
- Write a series (or market loosely connected books as a series)
- Make a series-related short story, novella, or the first novel free
- Include excerpts of other stories, especially at the back of the freebie
- Price novel-length books in the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot
- Build a backlist of quality stories
- Don’t expect success overnight—think in years
Of the respondents who did all those things right, 81.82% earned over $10K and 57.04% earned more than $50K. That sounded like a good plan to me. *smile*
The Power of a Freebie
Notice that the second item on that list specifies that we should offer a book related to our series for free. From Beverley’s survey, for authors with an income:
- Under $10K: 32.53% offered a series freebie
- Over $50K: 68% offered a series freebie
- Over $500K: 88.24% offered a series freebie
In other words, freebies correlate to higher incomes. We can understand the psychology of that effect by examining other aspects of our life.
Grocery and warehouse stores give away free food samples to get us to try new items all the time. Smartphone apps often have a free version to entice us to get hooked on a function or game where we pay for add-ons.
This approach is known in marketing terms as a sales funnel. The Copyblogger site has gone so far as to say that 100% of authors with a sales funnel will make more money.
“Simply put, a product funnel is a way of organizing your works so that one product leads logically into another.
You do this by setting up a series of pointers (in the backs of books, in product descriptions) in order to steer readers to the places you want them to go, and to give them compelling reasons to do so.
Products at the top of the funnel must be easy to consume. Product A, which casts your widest net and scoops in as many prospective readers as possible, should ideally be free. Product B can be a bit more expensive.”
When Doesn’t a Freebie Make Sense?
As the purpose of a freebie is to direct readers down into the funnel, we need other books to direct them to. It doesn’t do us any good to give something away and not use that page right after they finish our story to try to sell them something else where we can make money.
For a freebie to work, we need to have more than one book for sale. So this brought me to the first specifics of my plan:
- Offer a freebie, but…
- Have another book for sale first
More Books for Sale Equals a Backlist
As of a year ago, I’d completed three novels in my series and one short story. I could have gone the route of Liliana Hart and put them all up for sale at the same time. Ta-da! Instant backlist—like one of those other bullet points.
However, I’m a slow writer, and I didn’t want to hold my books back that long. Courtney Milan’s advice of doing something every 90 days to increase visibility and take advantage of Amazon’s 30 and 90-day algorithms was closer to what I felt capable of.
So that brought me to the second specific element of my plan:
- Create an “instant” backlist, but…
- Spread releases out over 90 day increments
Meet My Daisy-Chain Plan
This year’s release schedule is insane for me, and as a slow writer, I’ll likely never have another chunk of releases like this again. But this insanity was all part of my plan. *smile*
- In Advance: Have a “base” of three novels completed to create a backlist and one story to use as a freebie.
- In Advance: Hold back releases long enough to get the first novel and the freebie ready to sell (covers, formatting, etc.) and the other novels close (i.e., they can be polished and formatted within their 90-day window).
- Day 1: Set up first novel for pre-order 90 days out.
- Day 5: Offer freebie for sale with cover, excerpt, and buy links for the first novel in the backmatter.
- Day 6-85: Finish editing, cover design, etc. for second novel, and set up for pre-order with a 90-day window.
- Day 75-80: Submit final draft of first novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for the second novel in the backmatter.
- Day 90: First novel releases.
- Day 86-170: Finish editing, cover design, etc. for third novel, and set up for pre-order with a 90-day window.
- Day 160-165: Submit final draft of second novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for the third novel in the backmatter.
- Day 175: Second novel releases.
- Day 171-255: If we were ready with a fourth novel by this time, we could keep the chain going.
- Day 245-250: Submit final draft of third novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for a potential fourth novel in the backmatter.
- Day 260: Third novel releases.
In other words, the backmatter of each book leads to the buy links of the next book. From the very beginning, my freebie readers had someplace to go as soon as they finished reading, and the readers of each novel will have someplace new to go as well.
My Crazy Schedule
So if I haven’t answered your email, or if I’ve been incommunicado on social media, now you know why. I have a book coming out every 90-ish days this year:
- Released: Unintended Guardian (freebie short story)
- On Pre-Order, releasing May 20th: Treasured Claim (first novel)
- Releasing this summer: Pure Sacrifice
- Releasing this fall: Ironclad Devotion
That schedule sounds impressive except for the fact that it took me years to complete those stories. It’s just the release schedule that’s fast. *smile*
While I’d love to keep the chain going with a fourth, fifth, etc. novel, I’m not sure that will happen in time to leave the chain unbroken. (I’m only halfway through drafting the fourth novel and writing time has been non-existent.) Come November, I might just collapse for a while and come out with books four and five later next year.
The Pros and Cons of a Daisy Chain Release Schedule
The benefits of this daisy-chain plan are that it combines the quick-ish backlist of Liliana’s plan with a nod to Courtney’s plan for making the most of Amazon’s algorithms for slow writers. In addition, it creates a sales funnel of four products with a place to send our freebie readers right away.
Obviously, this plan won’t work for everyone. It requires several books to be written in advance (unless we are are a fast writer), and it takes money to get those books ready to go before any royalties are paid. However, with planning and advance preparation, this plan can work.
For me, writing those other stories kept me busy while I was trying the query route, and my plan was that I would try to fight the “dead genre” issue only until I’d finished the third novel. So other than the usual procrastination problems, none of the time writing, waiting, or holding back was “wasted.” *smile*
I came up with this plan several years ago, and those delays were part of the plan. Going back to the six bullet points of success, I figure I’m not doing too badly:
- Write a series—Check.
- Make a series-related short story free—Check.
- Include excerpts/buy links at the back of the freebie—Check.
- Price novel-length books in the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot—Check. (My pre-order is $0.99 and will go up to $2.99 after release.)
- Build a backlist—Check, in progress.
- Don’t expect success overnight and have a long-term plan—Check, in progress. (Again, this is years of planning and saving.)
Yes, I really am this much of an over-thinker and planner in normal life (yet I write by the seat of my pants—go figure). Time will tell if my plan works, but at least no one can say that I didn’t think things through. *smile*
Do you have a publishing plan? What is it? Which of those six elements of success is your strongest? Which is your weakest? Do you have any suggestions or questions about this daisy-chain plan?Pin It