From Scott:

Recently, I explained a series of free download offers I had arranged for all nine of my novels, spread out over a week or so. I planned to advertise them on different sites in order to increase their visibility. In the past, I had remarkable success with this method by advertising my thriller novels, Martyr’s Inferno and The Pythagoras Enigma. I listed them for free through Amazon’s Kindle Select program, and I advertised them through the website Pixel Of Ink, a free ebook site that had over 150,000 people following them. In the ensuing promos, I had thousands of downloads (Martyr’s Inferno reached #1), and resulted in a few hundred sales.

But this time around, Pixel Of Ink was no longer an option. Due to Amazon cracking down on certain rules their affiliates had to follow, Pixel Of Ink chose to discontinue their service. This left me with the challenge of trying to find a sufficient replacement. I was left with two barriers to a successful promo. First of all, I had to actually get listed on the websites I was sending my promos to. And second, even if I was listed, these sites needed to have heavy traffic. If I was to get listed on a webpage that has a dozen visitors per day, my book would not get much visibility.

So I did a little research. I’ll admit right up front that I didn’t do enough research to make this project have a decent chance of success. I looked around, found a page that listed free ebook sites, and primarily used that page as a reference. In retrospect, I should have dug a little bit deeper. There are websites available that will tell you how many hits a given domain receives, on average, over a week’s time, or a month’s time. Had I taken the time to gather this information, I would have been driving into this project with a much wider window of opportunity.

In my defense, I have not had a lot of free time these past few months. My full-time job has been drawing on more of my time lately, taking away from my writing. In fact, I’m in the process of writing a dystopian novel that has been firmly entrenched in the middle of chapter one for about four months now. But even more than just work, there is another matter eating up more and more of my waking hours. My fourth Ironman triathlon race is quickly approaching. For those who haven’t heard of the Ironman, it consists of a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike, and a full 26.2 mile marathon. And it all has to be completed within 17 hours. As I write this blog, I’m in my most intensive week of training. By Sunday afternoon, I’ll have put in 18 hours of workouts since Tuesday. Then things will begin to wind down, with the race in Louisville, Kentucky, on October 9. Maybe after that, I’ll have some free time…

There’s a reason for that digression regarding my non-writing activities. Because of all that I have going on, I neglected to check the various websites to see if my book was actually listed or not. This is especially damaging to the experiment because I ran the books on 3-day specials. You are only allowed five days per book, per 90-day window. Each book only has two free days remaining, so it would be difficult to go back and have a truly successful promotion during this 90-day time frame. I would have to wait a couple of months until I could run them three to four days on a free promotion and try this again.

With all of that said, let’s look at my results. As I expected, my top downloaded book during the free promo was Martyr’s Inferno. I submitted it (and The Pythagoras Enigma) to three sites. Very quickly, I learned that many of these free book sites offer their free listing, but when you sign up they try the bait-and-switch, offering a guaranteed listing if you pay up. In this case, I chose not to. During the three days it ran for free, Inferno had 389 free downloads, making it my number one book. However, the sequel (Enigma) only had 45 downloads. Why the disparity? I can see two possibilities. A simple explanation is that by overlapping the promos, the people who downloaded the first book hadn’t had enough time to decide whether they liked it, and therefore didn’t get to the sequel. The other possibility is that Inferno was the only book to actually be listed.

My newest novel, The Omega Sacrifice (science fiction), had 65 free downloads. By comparison, my other two science fiction novels, The Killing Frost and New Dawn Rising, combined for 80 downloads. As with my thriller novels, the first book greatly exceeded the sequel in the number of downloads. My sci-fi/vampire novel, 14 Days Til Dawn, which is troublesome in itself due to the lack of a specific genre, only had 26 free downloads. I had kinda hoped that 14 Days would be like Neil Diamond: He doesn’t fit neatly into any one musical category, but his music is timeless. Not so much with my novel, I guess.

Interestingly, my fantasy novels took a different route. Although Archon’s Gate was the sequel to The Piaras Legacy, Gate actually had more downloads, with 37 to Legacy’s 17. Rounding out the titles, A Matter Of Faith had 37 downloads.

These numbers were significantly lower than I had anticipated, leading me to believe that they probably didn’t get listed on their sites. Omega Sacrifice would most likely have been listed, since I paid the $10 fee to guarantee it. Of course, there’s no way to know for certain at this point. A simple computer error, on my end or theirs, would easily keep it from appearing. The spiked numbers for Martyr’s Inferno make it likely that at least one of the sites advertised it, but even that isn’t certain. In my past experiences with these promos, the thriller novels tend to be downloaded the most. That may not be true overall, but it certainly is for my novels.

How did this translate into sales? Not well. Almost not at all. The free downloads needed to be much higher in order to get noticed by Amazon’s advertising system. Once your book is downloaded in large numbers, it begins to appear (for free) on other books’ pages. When a buyer looks at someone else’s novel, your book will appear in the section partway down the page that says “other people also read”, giving you a chance at extra sales. And that is how your books are sold off the free promos.

If you are thinking of trying this with your own novel(s), you would do well to learn from these early mistakes I made. Research the websites to see what kind of traffic they get. Unless a given page has excessively high amounts of traffic, I wouldn’t bother with paying any fees just to guarantee that you get listed. If your book shows up in their listings, great. If not, and you like that page, try again the next time you do a promo. Maybe throw a different novel at them. It could be that they prefer one genre of books over another. If you find a page with high traffic, and they list your novel, your chances of a spurt of sales will go way up. And with ebooks, that is the way you get noticed. It just takes one breakthrough novel to get your name established, and name recognition is the key to success.

–Scott