From Scott:

I have to give credit where credit is due. When I explained my plans for this blog, Rick was the one who offered up the title. After some serious thought, and probably a lack of extensive planning, I decided that a pair of blogs was in order. The topic would be some rather basic experimentation in the field of advertising my e-books. The first installment, which you are reading now, details how I set up the promotions for the novels. The follow-up, which will come in a couple of weeks, will lay out the results.

Why did Rick say I was going over to the dark side? Because I pulled my books off Smashwords, removing them from all sales formats except for Amazon. I wanted to utilize Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to make my books available, for free, in runs of three consecutive days.

The program is called Kindle Select. The KDP Kindle Select rules dictate that you can only take advantage of their free promotions program if they have exclusive rights to the e-book format of a given book. I’ve used this in the past with my books, to varying degrees of success. Some of my books had mediocre numbers of downloads, while others were exceptional. Martyr’s Inferno, in particular, had great results. The website Pixel of Ink advertised it for me, and it went to number one on the Kindle free downloads list for thriller novels. Yes, those were free downloads, meaning I ended up with no royalties. But the system Amazon uses to determine which books it advertises is based upon the number of downloads. For a couple of weeks after the free promo, sales kicked in, moving about 300-400 units. Not bad for a free deal.

The other advantage here is that if your book is enrolled in the Kindle Select program, it can be downloaded for free by Amazon Prime members, and others can “borrow” the book, as from a library. When either of those two situations occurs, the author receives a portion of the Kindle Select Global Fund. The amount of this fund varies, so the amount of the payment varies, as well. But a little bit is better than nothing.

So off to the dark side I went. I pulled all of my books from other outlets, giving Amazon exclusive rights. My sales on other formats were, to be blunt, extremely disappointing, so I’m not missing much. I’m sure that somewhere on the Internet, someone is still selling my books. If Amazon finds them, I’ll receive a threatening email telling me I either have to pull them from those sites, or I’ll be cancelled. I’ll have to be diligent.

The key to success in the free download campaigns is visibility. The site I previously had tremendous success with, Pixel of Ink, is not currently accepting new submissions, so I did a bit of research. Please keep in mind that this experiment is very rudimentary. With the promotions falling on different days, and with the books belonging to different genres, this will by no means determine which site is the best to advertise on. There are too many variables. I simply found some sites, took notes, and on two occasions (for the sake of the experiment) shelled out a little cash to see if the pay sites were any better.

I’ll start with my two thriller novels, Martyr’s Inferno and The Pythagoras Enigma. Inferno will be on special from August 25-27, while Enigma will be on from August 26-28. I staggered them by a day, giving people the opportunity to get into the first book and hopefully draw enough interest to get the second downloaded before the promo ends. I followed the same strategy with each pair of books.

The first site I used was One Hundred Free Books (ohfb.com). They had a very simple submission form, with an immediate response. The service was free, but there is no guarantee that any given submitted novel will be listed on their site.

Next, I went to ilovee-books.com. They are a bit pickier, preferring the more popular genres and suggesting that a book needs a greater number of positive reviews to get listed. Since there was a good chance I wouldn’t get listed, I set this one up with a third site, indie-bookoftheday.com. On their site, they mention that they don’t want anything that anyone might consider offensive. Since both of my thrillers involve Islamic extremists committing acts of terrorism, I’m sure someone will be offended.

For The Omega Sacrifice, my latest release, I got a little crazy. Rather than go to a standard free e-book website, I decided to try Amazon’s own paid advertising. (Yes, Rick, now I’m DEEP in the dark side).

Here how the Amazon program works. The book went up for free from August 19-21. Starting on the 22nd, when sales would hopefully kick in, Amazon will begin listing my book as an ad on their pages. Anytime someone clicks on it, I’ll pay up to four cents. There is a daily cap on how much I’ll pay, and it is only going to run for a couple of weeks. I’m interested to see how this will come out. It won’t take too many sales to cover the cost of the entire campaign. The downside is that your book description is limited to 150 words. It’s difficult to spell out a complicated plot in that brief of a space. I also tried to advertise this book on free-booksy.com, but their form had an issue with the “dates” field, and they had no contact email to address the problem.

For The Piaras Legacy (free from September 1-3) and Archon’s Gate (free from September 2-4), I advertised on ereadercafe.com. They had a very simple form, quick and easy to fill out. No fees were listed. On kindle-bookpromos.com, I found a similar experience, although they did offer for a “pay to play” scenario, where if I paid them a fee, they would guarantee to advertise my books.

At this point, I began to notice that the forms on these pages, while vaguely similar, had slight differences that could easily cause you to make an error. I have to advise that you slow down and carefully read as you go. Some want your full name in one field, while others ask for your first name in one field, and last name in another. Some pages want the URL to your book on Amazon, while others only want the ASIN number assigned by Amazon. A few will offer to let you post a brief description. Just pay attention and you can avoid the pitfalls I almost landed in.

On to my first sci-fi novels. The Killing Frost is free from August 28-30, while New Dawn Rising is free from August 29-31. I listed them on e-booklister.net, which had the standard information requests in a simple form, followed by email confirmation of the receipt of the submission. At the end of the transaction, they suggest that you make a “donation,” which I’m sure would increase your chances of being listed on their site. They also automatically enroll you in their email newsletter. I also used indiee-bookoftheday.com, which I realized belatedly that I also used with my thriller novels. As I said, plenty of thought, but little planning.

Finally, the two books that stand alone. 14 Days ’Til Dawn is free from August 28-31, and A Matter Of Faith is free from August 29-31. Why did 14 Days end up with an extra day? Haste, that’s why. On the first site I listed it with, bookgoodies.com, their pop-up calendar starts on Monday, rather than the standard Sunday start. So I listed it from the 29th-31st by accident, and their site says that no changes can be made to a submission. I went back to Amazon and added the extra day. I also paid the $10 fee on this site to ensure the books are advertised. Once again, just trying to see if there are any differences between the free and paid services. The other site I used was kindle-bookreview.com, which again had the standard form and offers to pay for a listing, if you would like. I declined.

So the promotional dates are set, and the listings are submitted. Obviously, in most of these cases I have no guarantees that my books will be listed. And again, as I’ve seen in the past, thrillers tend to outsell fantasy, which outsells sci-fi. And 14 Days ’Til Dawn is a beast of its own. It’s probably my favorite book that I’ve written, and I think the characters are the best that I’ve developed. But by crossing over genre lines and creating a sci-fi vampire novel, I’ve taken a chunk out of the potential reader pool. It will require people who are interested in both vampires and sci-fi. Lesson learned.

I’ll report back at the end of this adventure, complete with figures and whatever else I can provide. Then we’ll see if Rick can rescue me from the dark side, or if I end up corrupting him instead.

–Scott