Going viral

Everything I’ve read lately has told me it’s pointless to offer free books unless you have something else to sell people. In fact, I’d pretty much resigned myself to just plugging away on the paperback version of The Awful Mess: A Love Story* (since I’d promised it to some folks), and then getting the next book up.

However, I’d already ordered an ad from BookBub to support free days originally planned for back in the beginning of September, and I was going to lose that investment if I didn’t use it. I’d already required their kind indulgence just to postpone it, something I’m not even sure they’re still allowing now.

So the ad ran Thursday, my first day free, and downloads shot off like a rocket. (Mind you, I didn’t notice this for a few of hours, because I kept looking at the wrong side of the sales report and wondering why I didn’t have even a single download yet.)

The pace slowed Friday, the second day free. This was a day that was unsupported by any ads. However, some odd little sites had picked it up as #1 free download (or #2 or wherever it was) and started tweeting it and such. And maybe other people also check their promotional emails as late as I sometimes do. Because while it slowed, it was still pretty impressive. I did some tweeting too, but somehow I doubt @sheerhubris’s 79 followers had a huge effect on sales.

Anyway, I had gone into this figuring I’d be lucky to get another 6,000-10,000 free downloads. I’d had 6,000+ for my first three free days, using other advertisers as well as some free sites that I was lucky picked me up. Really, I figured it would mostly get me some new reviews, and I was a little worried that they’d be irate that it wasn’t romantic enough, or whatever it is “women’s fiction” readers expect.

But I ended up getting almost 44,000 free downloads — twice what BookBub had listed as the upper range for my list.

I also spent some time at the top of the free bestsellers list, but that is something I also hit the last time I was free, at much lower download numbers. So while it would be nice to think I’m just brilliant and have an excellent book that OF COURSE is going to catch fire, I think it’s clear I was mostly just lucky.

One, the new Kindle Paperwhite had just come out and was being advertised heavily. So people were perhaps looking for ebooks at higher rates than usual. Two, it was just before the weekend and raining and chilly, at least where I live in the Northeast. (Plus there was a blizzard out west!)

Whatever the cause, this time I got to see Amazon’s algorithms really swing into action.

First, in an act of torture, they dropped me down to the 250,000ths in sales rank, which may be lower than I’ve ever seen this book (though I’ve certainly spent time in the 100,000ths). I looked at this figure — which lasted hours, mind you — in disbelief: how was that even possible?

Then suddenly I was ranking in the 1000ths. Here’s where I was as I started drafting this on the Sunday afternoon after my Thursday and Friday free:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,071 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

  • #15 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Literary Fiction > Romance
  • #39 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Literary Fiction > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
  • #40 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Literary Fiction > Women’s Fiction

What’s more, if I went lurking in private browsing mode and typed in search terms like “Kindle literary romance” my book was offered right up there at the top!

Which reminds me of another change this time around: I had picked some new keywords. And at least two of them are showing up above. So that probably helped, too. It also helps that literary fiction is a smaller category to begin with — I can shoot to the top of that one much more easily than plain old “romance” or something like that. (Of course, that also means I’m not really anywhere near being an actual bestseller. This is not going to change my life anytime soon.)

At any rate, something happened to make Amazon start actively promoting my book, even though paid sales were fairly strong, but not insane (and there were also the inevitable returns from people who thought they were getting it free). Maybe the fact that I’m at $3.99 instead of 99 cents means those sales are worth a lot more than they were the last time? (I’d dropped to 99 cents to salvage something from my lost two free days last month.) Maybe the pace of reviews pouring in helped? (It’s stunning how fast some people read full-length books!)

I expect this to tail off, of course — I’ve already dipped a bit in some of the lists I was on —  but it’s been nice while it lasts. I’ve also earned over 20 new reviews, all positive except for the sole one-star “boring,” which I knew had to come sooner or later. But it’s so much better to get it now, with 40 good ones already in the bank. And that’s a matter of luck, too!

If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t get my book updated with good promos for the next book, or a better enticement to get on my email list. I’ve been too busy, and agonizing over the cover for the next book, and as time got shorter I became deeply afraid that I might accidentally blow up my book at a Very. Bad. Time. So I let it go.

Anyway. I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re an indie author going free might still have some uses, even with a solo title. But to get these kinds of numbers, you’ll need to support your free days with good advertising, and that expense may take quite some time to earn back. Also, obviously, your book needs to be in good enough shape to earn good reviews from strangers.

And perhaps most of all you need to be lucky.

So … good luck!

The illustrated version:

Thursday night. Notice that I had 25 reviews.

Top free 10-2013

And here’s what that translated into three days later, when I typed “Kindle women’s literary romance” into Amazon’s search box. The Awful Mess* was right there at the top, right where any author of a literary romance might hope to be. And this time I had 47 reviews.

Pretty heady stuff, when it goes well!

kindle womens romance search 10-13* My book links are Amazon associate links, which means I get a small additional fee if you purchase the book after going to Amazon through my web site. (Your sales price will be no different.)