Where to start!?! Obviously, I gained tons of exposure, more than I could ever dream of, and more than I was prepared for. For a few weeks after the promotion my name was still fluttering about on Twitter and on the internet. In everything I had read prior to going free, they all said right after your promotion ends, your sales take a dump. I was well prepared for it. I had my screenshots of my awesome moments, and I was just going to look at those as sales went down, down, down.
Except they didn’t. My free promotion ran from August 20th-24th. In the last seven days of August, I sold 2,271 books. That’s roughly 324 books a day (note that all these figures only include Amazon US sales and do not include any borrows). How does that compare to my typical prior sales? In the entire first year of that books release, I sold 211 books. It has been about five months since I ran that free promotion, and I would say it was just this month that my sales finally tuckered themselves out. But, that being said, they’re still more than twice what they were before the promotion, and add into that that I haven’t done a lick of marketing since the free promotion. Not one thing. Haven’t really tweeted, haven’t pushed my book on Facebook – haven’t done a damn thing. So, let’s take a look at the numbers….
August sales (the last seven days of the month, after my promotion ended): 2,271
September sales: 2,595
October sales: 407
November sales: 318
December sales: 171
Now, to some that’s probably chump change, and you can definitely see the decline as time went on. But that’s 3,491 sales without an ounce of marketing on my part. That’s just riding the wave the free promotion made, until the very end. Also, coming from only having sold 211 copies over the course of a year, I’ll gladly take these numbers. From the sales over the five months, I achieved my first big goal in this journey, the one I set from day one – break even on what I spent going Indie. I thought I would never get there. But I did, I surpassed it, and I actually made a profit. Profit, can you believe it!?!
Prior to my free promotion, my best rank ever was in the 4,000 range, and that was a one-time occurrence. Over the course of a year, my ranking for that book would bounce between 150,000 and 75,000, averaging around 120,000. Its ranking since the free promotion has, of course, dropped considerably due to my lack of continued marketing. It’s sitting at 50,000 currently.
I had read from many authors prior to my experience that every free promotion will bring bad reviews. People like free stuff. They’ll get a book outside their normal preferred genres, just because it’s free. And then surprise, they don’t like the book, and then leave a less than favorable review for it. I read that it was more typical for readers to leave a bad review (1-2 stars) for a book they got free, than one they paid for (and also didn’t enjoy). I took the time while I was researching to check out this idea, and quickly saw that it was true. I was actually surprised at the amount of books with terrible reviews, saying things like “I got it free, and even that is paying too much!” That’s harsh, man. Harsh. I would then check that reviewers other reviews and see how they rated books that were not recently free. On average, they would leave a 3 star review, but in the review saying things like “It was okay, didn’t do much for me and was hard to finish.” You could also see, clearly, that the genres of the free books they were leaving crappy reviews for were vastly different genres than those of the books they enjoyed. This trend seemed to happen to everyone. Every article I read about people’s KDP Select experience, everyone said negative, nasty reviews rolled in. So I braced myself for it. And they did roll in. Some people just didn’t enjoy the book, some said it was too drab, some said it was too much. If I can find even a moarsal of constructive criticism in a bad review, I try to use that to better my writing. But before any of those kinds of reviews came in, different kinds of bad reviews rolled in, in a way I never expected.
From my experience I learned several things. You can be a nobody, and at least for a short time, give the big boys a run for their money; and, when you do that, it pisses the big boys off. It seems the publishing world can be a nasty, shady place.
My free promotion wasn’t even over when bad reviews started rolling in. Which, okay, I was ready for that. I had read bad reviews would come, and I accepted that. Not everyone will like my writing, and that’s okay. But there was something fishy about these reviews. The way they were phrased, they were clearly written by folks in the industry. Okay, writers like to read, I know that, I told myself, but then reviews started popping up mentioning things that weren’t in my book – at all.
At first I just wanted to cry. Why were they doing this? Why were they saying things that weren’t in my book? I quickly emailed a couple close friends, throwing myself a pity party about it all. They read the reviews and agreed something was just a little too off with them and said to me, “I would see if you can find out more about who they are.” While sobbing, I pulled up my sleeves and started doing what I do – research. I probably should have become a detective instead of a writer… I started digging into who these reviewers were. The first one it only took a few clicks of the mouse to find out that, bango, it was another author. Another author that writes in the same genre as me. Some more clicks of the mouse, looky there, she’s not too far off in the ranks from where I was.
Now I was even more pissed. I hadn’t been in the writing or publishing world for very long, and in that time had only known wonderful people; Writers who helped each other, people who wanted to see the others succeed. But as I talked with a friend about what information I had found, she said to me, “They see you as a threat. Look how quickly you shot up the ranks, and that bothers them. And if you pushed her out of her rank in the process, well then…” I never thought I would be seen as a threat, and I never thought other writers would write fake negative reviews to try and bump people out of their way. The thought never occurred to me that that could happen. Then another friend told me I apparently had my head up my rear, because a few months back there was some big internet scandal about a writer leaving fake reviews for himself. I realized then I should probably read the news more often.
As I was trying to figure out, exactly, what you’re supposed to do in this type of situation, it got worse. More weird reviews popped up echoing the others, pertaining to things not in my book. So I kept on tracking down just who these reviewers were. Turns out, some publishers don’t like Indie authors getting attention; I’m assuming they want to keep self published writing with the tarnished name from its past. Yup, turns out several of the reviewers actually worked at publishing houses and were leaving bad reviews referencing things not even in my book. Nice, huh?
Now, you might want to say, maybe I’m just a shitty writer, the reviews were well deserved, and that other authors and people in publishing leaving those reviews was purely coincidental. Sure, that’s possible. Maybe I might sound like some crazed conspiracy theorist. You’re entitled to your opinion. But it was all a little too coincidental for my taste that just as my book was flying by others that had held their spot for weeks – then I was suddenly getting these weird reviews. Unfortunately, there’s not much one can do about it, though. I did the only things I thought I could - report what information I had to Amazon, hired an awesome new editor to be sure everything was clean, and just try to move forward.
What I took from this whole experience, and what I hope to pass onto anyone who was patient enough to read my long ass posts, is this…
Yes, Twitter can do wonders; for those who already use it consistently and see results from it; or if others are spreading the word for you. I don’t utilize Twitter like I should, and it wasn’t until other people started tweeting that I picked up any momentum there. My tweets alone, fell flat.
Don’t underestimate the power of politely asking someone to post a link. Had I not taken the five minutes to write a short letter to send to Facebook page owners, I highly doubt I would have seen even a fraction of the success I did. Sure I could have posted the link on the pages directly, but there was an issue with that idea I don’t like; how many of those squished “Posted by Others” posts do you read on a Facebook page/group, really? I sure as heck hardly read them. And none of those posts show up in my news feed anyway. By taking the few hours (collectively) that I spent sending a message to the page owners, I not only got a direct post from them on their page (which shows up in the news feeds), I made a great impression and a future contact. For extra measure afterward, I sent everyone I could a direct thank-you message. Several of them replied saying to feel free to contact them anytime about future promotions.
Be prepared for bad reviews, they will come. It is true that people will buy things, just because it’s free. They’ll get books they wouldn’t normally read, because lets face it, the word free is damn tempting. I’ve fallen victim to it myself, purchasing a book I might normally not read, just because it’s free. What can I say, I’m on a tight budget. Just take from the bad reviews anything constructive, and move on. If you can’t handle reading the negative reviews (it wears on you), just look at your awesome star rating, tell yourself you’re now a bestselling author, and skip reading the reviews altogether.
If you get huge results like I was lucky to get, and your name is blowing up Twitter – it’s going to piss some people off, and they might try to do something about it. Just be prepared for the possibility, but there’s really nothing you can do about it should it happen. Report it to Amazon, sure, but never, ever, respond to negative reviews. Don’t comment on it in your reviews, and don’t try to contact the reviewer directly. Cuss them out while you sit in your living room, eating a quart of ice cream. And then cuss them out for bringing you to the point of eating a quart of ice cream all by yourself. But don’t actually comment on their review, and don’t contact them at all. That’s a no-no. Since that time though, Amazon did send me a bland form letter saying they would look into the issue – and slowly, some of those reviews are being removed.
Sales don’t necessarily come to a halt afterward, depending on the amount of exposure you received. With a big enough boost in ranking, sales can linger around for a while longer. Even today, there are still some Tweets that pop up here and there about it. But don’t make the mistake I did in not capitalizing on that – continuing your marketing effort afterward will only increase the already increased sales. That is where I let myself down. I didn’t capitalize on the extra exposure and boost. I was thrilled and grateful for it, and then exhausted by it. With getting ready for the release of my book, the crazy ride, and the stress that followed afterward; frankly – I just needed a break. I was burned out. And then life got in the way. Being a mom and a wife before being a writer, that tends to happen. But had I had the mental energy to press on with my marketing efforts afterward, I can only wonder how much longer the sales boost could have lasted.
So there you have it, folks, the whole story. To (hopefully) see big results for your free promotion, send letters to pages on Facebook like your life depends on it. Get them to post around the same timeframe, creating a big wave of attention. All that buzz will create an even bigger wave with stronger momentum, and ride that wave for all its worth. Since my free promotion, I’ve heard that Amazon has changed who/how often sites can promote free deals, supposedly because it deters away from others sales. So, what I did to may not create the same kind of results now because of that. I’ve also read in a few places that Amazon gives an authors first free promotion a boost, so any other promotion from that author may not see the same results simply because of that. Whether or not that’s true, I’m not sure. But I’m a stubborn girl though, so I’ve since expanded my list of Facebook pages to contact and websites to submit to. Because I did end up sticking with KDP Select, now with the intentions of running a free promotion for my second book – and I will, again, use all 5 days at once. Fingers crossed for all of our upcoming promotions!
Now, for anyone who has made their way to the end of my posts; if you're interested, feel free to contact me and I would be happy to send you my updated list of sites to contact!