Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Do Book Giveaways Really Work?

Your job, as an author, is to tell a story. Whether you're writing shorts about tragic romances or medieval political thrillers that go on for thousands of pages, all you have to do is tell your story, and tell it well.

Well, that, and sell thousands of copies so you can pay your bills at the end of the month.

Pictured: The kind of sales that make most authors salivate.
We rarely stop and consider just how many copies of a book we have to sell in order to actually turn a profit. For example, say you get 50% of ebook sales, and your ebook is priced at $2 (this is just an example, your numbers will vary based on publishing company and method). That's $1 a sale. So how many books would you have to sell just to pay your rent/mortgage? 800? 1,000? More?

If you're reading this, chances are you think that's fantasy territory. The idea of selling a fraction of those numbers, even if you have to do it by hand at a convention, sounds like a huge windfall. However, there are authors who manage that kind of overnight success. And one way they've done it is through book giveaways.

Or, at least, that's what you've been told.

The Legend of Mark Dawson

If you keep an eye on the latest success stories from fellow authors, you've likely hear the tale of Mark Dawson's success. And if you haven't, it's on Forbes. Even if you've never read his story, though, you're going to feel like it's all too familiar. Dawson was an author who put a lot of love, skill, and heart into one book, and because his publisher didn't do its job on the marketing front it went largely ignored. So Mark wrote another book, and decided he would publish it himself. He put in a ridiculous amount of research, put it up on Amazon, and nothing happened. So he decided, for a lark, to host a free giveaway for a weekend. Two days later, he checked his numbers...

Holy shit... numbers!
... and found he'd moved 50,000 copies. They were, in fairness, 50,000 copies he would receive no money for, but that is a lot of eyes to get on your book with a single promotion. It also meant that Mike suddenly had a significantly bigger audience than he'd had before, and they were all leaving positive reviews of the free book they'd just downloaded. They wanted more, and that hunger was enough to kick him into high gear. That was when he created the globe-trotting assassin John Milton, and started writing a series about his adventures. Which, in turn, led to a six-figure income.

So All I Need To Do Is Run A Book Giveaway?

Yes, and no.

You see, a book giveaway is not a guarantee that you are suddenly going from the poor house to the big house. You're not drilling for oil or mining gold; you're recruiting. Part of how successful your giveaway will be is determined by how good your book is. The rest is pretty much determined by how many people see your giveaway, and decide to take part in it.

Artist's depiction of Dawson's giveaway.
The reason Mark Dawson, and other authors like him, keep cropping up in our social media feeds and in the news is because they conjure huge numbers of readers out of the ether. Often that's because they work hard, they cultivate an audience, and they make sure to keep their readers happy by giving them what they want. However, going from nowhere into the stratosphere is caused by one, impossible-to-predict quantity.

Luck. Pure, simple, do-da, clueless, luck.

Hosting a book giveaway is good for your numbers. There are readers out there who regularly scroll through free offerings to make sure they have all the ebooks they could ever want. Readers are also loathe to pass up a free book, and if all they have to do is click a button to get a book, then they probably will. The catch is that your book still has to stand out in order to get readers to actually open the file. As we all know, just because you download something, that's no guarantee you're going to read it anytime soon.

So, in an ideal world, every giveaway you host will generate a legion of fans who have just discovered you, and you will experience a huge burst of activity as your new base devours all your other books like a plague of literate locusts with money to burn. What is more likely to happen is that between a few hundred and a few thousand (depending on your reach and how many people help spread the signal) people will download your free book. Of those downloads, a fraction will read it. Of those who read it, a fraction will decide they like it, and seek out more.

Speaking of, check this out and see if you like it. The first two stories are free!
When the worst case scenario is getting more readers who will add you to their list of authors they like, and the best case scenario is an explosion of popularity and overnight celebrity, there's no reason not to host a book giveaway. You should, however, keep your expectations reasonable. Sometimes the lightning doesn't strike, but that's no reason not to fly your kite the next time the clouds get stormy.

Hopefully you found this week's installment something you can take to heart. If you want to make sure you get all of my updates, then either plug your email address into the box on the right, or follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter. If you'd like to help support me, then visit The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and toss some bread in my jar. Every little bit helps, and you'd be surprised how far $1 a month can go.

Also, if you prefer novels to short stories, go check out my latest sword and sorcery release Crier's Knife!

1 comment:

  1. Very reasonable article. I feel much less uncomfortable about book giveaways. I think I'll look into Amazon's since mine is self pub.