Shout-Outs

Double Trouble, book #2 in the Coxwell Series of contemporary romances, by Deborah CookeThere are two shout-outs today for Double Trouble, at its discounted price of 99 cents at some portals (B&N) and free at others (Amazon in most markets, Apple and Kobo). This sale price only lasts until the 30th.

Here’s the first mention in today’s Digital Book World.

And here’s the second, in today’s Kindle Books & Tips.

These are good newsletters to subscribe to if you like bargain books. (And who doesn’t?)

These promos also work best if people like and share them, so I’d appreciate if you did so. 🙂

 

 

 

March Reader Contest

The Dragon Legion Collection, including all three Dragon Legion novellas and #9 in the Dragonfire series of paranormal romances, by Deborah CookeIt’s the beginning of the month, and time for a new reader contest. This month’s prize is a signed trade paperback copy of The Dragon Legion Collection. The contest is open internationally, and – as usual – for every 25 entries, I’ll add another prize book. All you have to do is comment on this post for a chance to win.

Remember also, that I’m spring cleaning, and will be giving away 15 books on March 15.

The Beauty Bride, book #1 of the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of Scottish medieval romances, by Claire DelacroixComment on this post for a chance to win one of five signed trade paperback copies of The Beauty Bride.

The Rose Red Bride, book #2 of the Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy of Scottish medieval romances by Claire DelacroixComment on this post for a chance to win one of five signed trade paperback copies of The Rose Red Bride.

The Snow White Bride, book #3 of the Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy of Scottish medieval romances by Claire DelacroixComment on this post for a chance to win one of five signed trade paperback copies of The Snow White Bride.

Good luck!

Spring Cleaning – The Beauty Bride

The Beauty Bride, book #1 of the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of Scottish medieval romances, by Claire DelacroixAs I clean up the existing digital book files, I’m also cleaning up the files for the trade paperback editions. This is mostly a question of italics and commas and margins, of me being a fussy typesetter, and of new end matter links, but the result is that I want to clean out my old copies to have only new ones. So, this is the first of three posts about finding new homes for print trade paperback editions.

There are FIVE copies of THE BEAUTY BRIDE that need new homes. Comment on this post to tell me why one of them should be yours. I’ll draw winners on March 15. As usual on my blog, this contest is open internationally. Good luck!

Contest at New Blog

Remember I told you that I was part of a new blog for historical romance writers, called LoveHistoricals? Well, the thirteen of us decided to host a contest to celebrate the launch of the site. We’re giving away thirteen books (one from each author) as prizes to thirteen lucky winners, then one really lucky winner gets thirteen books for his or herself.

Details are right here. Be sure to enter, and to spread the word!

(Hmm. I need to remember to get the logo for the new LH blog on the sidebar of this new blog. Maybe later today.)

November Reviewer Contest

Here we go again – another month means another reviewer contest here on the blog.

There are two monthly contests here on the blog. This is the contest for people who post online reviews of my books. The idea is that if you read one of my books and like it, then post a review somewhere out there on the Internet, you can comment on this post to be eligible to win a signed book from me.

What you need to do to enter:
1. Read one of my books and like it. :-)
2. Write a review of the book and post it online – you can do that at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, AllRomanceEbooks, Smashwords, Sony, KOBO, Apple, Goodreads or Shelfari. (If I missed a place where you can post reviews, let me know!) Just a word to the wise, here: Amazon has been removing reviews. I’m not sure why, but you might want to post your review on Goodreads or Shelfari so it sticks.
3. Add a comment to this post, saying which book you reviewed. Your comment will be your contest entry.

N.B. Your email address will not be displayed to the world, just to me, and it needs to be right if I’m going to be able to contact you. Also, if you add a link to the book page in question, that’s okay but your comment will go to moderation. Your comment won’t appear immediately, but will be waiting on me. Once I approve it, it’ll be there for all to see. All comments with links go to moderation on this blog.

Please only enter once for each review. If you review multiple books in a month, you are welcome to enter multiple times. The contest is open to international winners.

The Prizes

The winner can choose a print book from the following list of my books – I’ll sign it and mail it to the winner. I do have some gaps in my collection, so here are the choices:

Claire Cross/Delacroix time travels – new trade paperback editions.

Bride Quest I (PRINCESS, DAMSEL, HEIRESS) – mass market copies of TD and TH only.

Bride Quest II (COUNTESS, BEAUTY, TEMPTRESS) – new trade paperback editions.

Rogues of Ravensmuir – new trade paperback editions. I have WARRIOR in mass market, too.

Jewels of Kinfairlie – new trade paperback editions. I have BEAUTY BRIDE in mass market, too.

The Renegade’s Heart – trade paperback edition.

The Highlander’s Curse – trade paperback edition.

The Prometheus Project – mass market paperback of GUARDIAN and REBEL.

Dragonfire – I have all titles in mass market, EXCEPT I have no way to give away the digital short story “Harmonia’s Kiss”. The Dragon Legion Collection in trade paperback is also available.

The Dragon Diaries – trade paperback edition, and UK trade of the first two titles.

The Coxwells – all in new trade paperback editions.

Of course, if you want something in French, Spanish or German, that’s a whole ‘nuther list!

As usual, the contest is open internationally and for every 25 entries, I’ll draw for another prize.

Good luck, everyone!

RWA National

It will be quiet this week on the blog, as I’m off to the Romance Writers of America‘s annual conference. It’s in Atlanta this year, which is a city I’ve never visited before. I’m looking forward to doing a bit of sightseeing, maybe some shopping, and catching up with friends and business acquaintances. I’m hoping to hear lots of juicy gossip and learn a lot about writing and publishing (because there’s always more to know). It’s like that I’ll bring home too many books, sleep too little, then come home both energized and inspired. It’ll be fun.

Ember's Kiss, a Dragonfire paranormal romance by Deborah Cooke

  The Renegade's Heart, first in the True Love Brides series of medieval romances by Claire Delacroix

If you are in or near Atlanta, the booksigning to raise money for literacy is open to the public. I’ll be signing copies of Ember’s Kiss and The Renegade’s Heart there. The “Readers for Life” literacy signing will be on Wednesday July 17, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta. More info is here.

Double Trouble, book #2 in The Coxwells Series, by Deborah Cooke

The Beauty Bride by Claire Delacroix, first in the bestselling trilogy of medieval romances The Jewels of Kinfairlie.

If you’re attending the conference, I’ll also be participating in the Indie Author Signing, which will be on Thursday July 18, from 3 to 4:15 in the Marquis Ballroom D. I’ll have postcards with QR codes for a free digital copy of Double Trouble and/or a free digital copy of The Beauty Bride from KOBO.

If you’re staying home, then be good this week and stay out of mischief while I’m gone. 🙂 Be sure to pop back here next Monday as there’s something good in the works for next week…

The End of Free?

We’ve talked about authors making books free in past posts here on Wild West Thursday, and about the way that free can give visibility to an author. (Here’s one of my earliest posts about free, and some reflections on implications, then a more recent one about free’s effectiveness.) The benefit of free is particularly seen in linked titles — for example, when Double Trouble was free, sales of One More Time, All or Nothing and Third Time Lucky increased dramatically. In a nutshell, making Double Trouble free gave the Coxwell series the visibility it needed to populate the algorithm at the various online portals and to find readership.

Free, however, doesn’t directly make money for the online bookseller. It creates expense but not revenue. It requires capacity in the network and storage space on the servers. There are many authors who don’t use free strategically to drive sales of other titles. Before Christmas, the rumor was that there were over 2 million titles that were free on Amazon, and that 3000 – 4000 titles went free every single day on that site through KDP Select. With that kind of volume of titles available free, it’s fair to say that a culture is being established that ALL books should be free—or at least that an ever-growing number of readers are coming to believe that they need never again pay for a book.

It stands to reason that online booksellers would want free to go away. The question is how will they do it — and the problem is that it works so very well to promote linked titles. (I talked about this a bit in January.)

Amazon is one portal on which authors can’t set a free price. Every book must have a minimum price of 99 cents. (B&N is another portal that doesn’t allow authors to make a book free.) Amazon chooses to match a free price elsewhere, or not, at their own discretion. What authors often do is make a title free at Apple, KOBO, and/or Smashwords (which feeds content to both of those portals as well as B&N and others.) Amazon then may choose to match the price. The other option is to register a title in KDP Select, which allows the author to pre-select 5 free days in a 90 day period, but also requires exclusivity of that title for those 90 days.

In my experience, going free everywhere has been much more effective. It has helped to build my sales on every portal by populating their respective algorithms, which diversifies my income source. It also doesn’t require exclusivity, which is something resented by readers who shop at portals other than Amazon. You can probably guess that having done this has weakened my own relationship with Amazon: in December 2012, probably 95% of my online indie sales were made at Amazon. In December 2013, that would have been closer to 60%. My sales at KOBO and Apple exploded in the last half of 2012, and B&N grew significantly, as well. That’s a big change and if my experience is mirrored across the entire publishing platform, that’s an issue from Amazon. (Last week, I saw an industry report that Amazon’s market share had dropped from 90% to 60%, which indicates that my results are typical.)

In December, I had several books free on all portals, which were driving sales of linked titles very nicely. I was all ready for the Christmas gifts of e-readers and finding new audience with those free titles. To my surprise, Amazon unmatched free on my books just before Christmas, returning them to their regular prices. My marketing plan, at least on that portal, was completely trashed. I think they must have had some pushback from customers, though, because they were matching free again before New Year’s. The momentum had been lost for my titles, though, so I returned them to regular prices elsewhere, too, and changed strategies.

By mid-January, though, free was back in place at Amazon, much as it had been a month before. It appears that the first attempt to get rid of free – by teaching new Kindle users that content must be bought – was unsuccessful.

Tomorrow, the next stage in the plan goes into effect: Amazon has changed the rules for Amazon Associates accounts. These are sites that drive traffic to Amazon with buy links and receive a percentage of all purchases made by those customers who follow their link. Although the amount of money per unit sale is small, sites that drive high volumes of traffic—like many of the services that advertise free books to readers—do well enough to pay their expenses. As of March 1, however, Amazon has changed the terms of payment. If most of the downloads/sales driven by an associate’s links are for free books or if downloads of free books exceed a specified number of units, that associate will forfeit payment from Amazon for that month.

This is an interesting strategy and it remains to be seen whether it changes the game or not. Either way, get ready for more discounted books and fewer free ones. Will Amazon continue to encourage authors to sign up for KDP Select? I suspect they will, and as getting rid of the free price-match may be a means to compel authors to use KDP Select to get books free on Amazon. We’ll see.

But the funny thing is I had booked a sale for March well in advance of this announcement. I feel psychic!

Jewels of Kinfailie Boxed Set by Claire Delacroix

March 4 – 31, the Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set will be discounted from $9.99 to $2.99. That’s three  full length medieval romances and a linked short story for less than $3. It’ll be on sale at Amazon, KOBO, B&N and Apple.

Check back on Monday for one-click buy links.

Free and Its Fallout

This week on Wild West Thursday, we’ll talk a bit about one of the sales mechanisms used to promote books in the digital marketplace – making a title free.

The Principle

The core idea is that the free book is what is called a “loss leader” by marketing people. This is similar to a free sample – the difference is that it isn’t a trial size (a chapter or two) but the entire book which is usually sold for a higher price than free. That it’s often a limited time offer increases the appeal – customers are getting a deal. Ideally, the customer tries the free book, likes it, then buys other books by the author. Also, because the book is free, more people download it than would otherwise be the case. This can drive the book on to free “bestseller” lists – actually they’re lists of most popular downloads because these books aren’t sold. The fact that so many people try the book gives it more visibility on online portals in display positions and bestseller lists, which makes more people aware that it is free, leading to more free sampling – and ideally more sales.

Publishers have given away free print books for years to stimulate this same result. Online distribution of digital books allows a more immediate effect, and the opportunity for momentum to build quickly.

The Mechanics

Not all sites allow the price of a book to be set to $0.00. Neither Amazon nor Barnes&Noble allow a book to be set to free, but both of them clearly offer free books. There are several ways to make this happen.

There are two ways to make a book free at Amazon. First, Amazon offers a promotion called KDP Select. To enroll a title in this program, the indie author must make the digital book available exclusively at Amazon for 90 days. Within that 90 days, the book can be offered free for a total of five days. The title also is available for borrowing by Amazon Prime customers, a program which compensates authors for each “borrow” in a way similar to the Public Lending Right Commission. One thing that is very appealing about KDP Select is how easy it is to make a book free at a specific time. There’s no squish and no wiggle, no fuss and no muss. It’s a lot less trouble and a lot more precise than the other way of getting a book to be free on Amazon.

The second way to get a book free on Amazon is to encourage Amazon to match the price at another portal. Other portals (like Apple, KOBO and Smashwords) allow the author to set the book’s price to free. There is no guarantee that Amazon will match a free price – they do so at their own discretion, and on their own schedule. On every product page on Amazon, there is a link (scroll down to the product information, where the publisher information and sales ranking is listed) to report a lower price elsewhere. When authors want a book to go free on Amazon, they often will ask readers to do this reporting in the hopes of encouraging Amazon to price match. The rumour is that Amazon is more likely to match Apple and KOBO than any other vendor. The advantage of going free this way is that the promotion can last more than five days. The disadvantage is that you can’t be sure it will work, or even when it will work if it does. It’s more trouble.

As mentioned, B&N does not allow a book to be set free through PubIt. B&N does take a feed from Smashwords, though, and if the book is set free at Smashwords then distributed to B&N from there, B&N will list it at the free price. This is a bit goofy, but it works – obviously, the title must already be approved for premium distribution at Smashwords. To save confusion, both the SW and the B&N edition should have the same ISBN#.

The Effects

1. A well managed free promotion – even one of only several days duration – can propel a title on to the free “bestseller” lists. These actually are most popular download lists, but they have similar visibility to the bestseller lists. On Amazon, the lists run side by side: paid on the left, free on the right. All lists are self-propagating, which means that once a title is on a list, it is likely to stay there for a while. The higher it is on the list, the more visibility it has. That leads to more downloads of the free title and more visibility for the authors’ other titles. This is the BOOM of going free and it can be quite amazing to watch.

2. Obviously, the intent of going free is to drive sales of other titles. I generally put the first title in a series free when I’m going to do this kind of promotion. People who want to read on will naturally gravitate to the next book in the series. The first result that I routinely see in my sales when I offer a title for free happens within 24 hours: any works that I have for sale for 99 cents begin to sell at an accelerated rate. At 48 hours in, the book in the series that comes after the free title begins to sell at an accelerated rate. It’s quite interesting to watch the ripple effect pass through the sales spreadsheet as interest flows to the other linked books, then to other titles in my list. The avid readers lead the charge, followed by a big wave of readers who get to books in a week or two. There is trickle for up to six months, as readers get to the books they’ve downloaded for free. Overall, I find that the main effect spikes and drops over 60 days or so, at which point there will be a new higher baseline established for my monthly sales rate.

3. When a book goes free, sales of other titles increase but so do returns of those titles. Clearly there are people who like to read for free and want to continue to read for free through an author’s entire list. It makes sense for online booksellers to allow returns within a tight period of time – it is possible to one-click-buy a title by mistake, but the buyer knows his or her error immediately. A one hour return window would be perfectly fair. Instead, these portals seem to allow returns indefinitely. When a book goes free, returns of other titles increase in returns, particularly on that subsequent book in the series. These returns occur days or even weeks after the purchase is made, which leads me to conclude that the customer is reading the book and then returning it. This pattern is particularly pronounced on Amazon.com.

4. Another effect of having a book go free is a proliferation of one star reviews for that title. I’m not sure why this happens but it certainly does – and some of these reviews can be very nasty. I don’t understand this behavior as the book in question is free and the reader doesn’t have to download it, but there is definitely anger and resentment in these reviews. Again, it’s a pattern that is more pronounced on Amazon.com than on any other portal. I don’t think that overall it’s that important – as reviews build for a title, things even out – but authors new to free are often startled by these reviews. (Yet another reason to not obsessively read reviews, IMO.) In recent months, there appears to have been a bit of a backlash amongst readers – I’ve noticed a proliferation of four and five star reviews when a book goes free, which balances things out a bit. It’s nice of readers to do this. 🙂

5. On all portals, the availability of a free title will ideally drive sales of the author’s other titles. This is a natural result of some percentage of readers liking the book and wanting to read more. On Amazon, however, The Algorithm ensures that there is more of an afterburn from a free promotion. As far as I can tell, this is peculiar to Amazon and ensures that there are greater results from a free offering. Consider first the visibility that a free title has: it’s on free download “bestseller lists”; it’s displayed as “also boughts” along with every title that has been downloaded or purchased in the same order by customers; it may be suggested elsewhere on the site due to its popularity as a free title. When the title comes off free on Amazon, all of those display positions hold – with the exception that the price changes from $0 to whatever the list price of the book is. It looks as if all of those people bought the book at its current price. That supplies an extra boost to the title in terms of sales and visibility.

The Strategies

Given the benefits of going free, there are still lots of questions. How long should a book be free? Some authors advocate for the short term (2 – 5 days), others prefer a week or two, while still others are convinced that one title in an author’s list should be permanently free. There are authors who write a novella introducing a trilogy of books and make the novella free to promote the books. There are authors who leave the first book in a trilogy free, or the first novella in a linked series free. There are authors who offer a seasonal freebie – this is often billed as a thank-you gift to readers, and might be a Christmas themed novella. There are authors who compile or write anthologies with other authors, then offer that anthology free, as a sampler for all of their work.

I suspect that the results vary based not only on the author in question, but the work in question, the promotion associated with going free and the genre or sub-genre of the work itself. What other titles are free in a given sub-genre will also affect results, as will events in the big wide world. Like so many things in indie publishing, there are so many variables that it’s difficult to identify every element that contributes to success.

There are many many ways to play with this mechanism and use it to advantage, and I suspect that new ideas will develop all the time. The free book is here to stay – the issue is how to make it most effective in promoting a particular author and his or her books. That is in flux and will remain so, which is part of the challenge.

How about you? Do you download free books? Do you read them right away, or get to them later? What determines when you read a free book? Do you ever buy other books by the author, if you like the free one? Do you post reviews of free books?