my self-publishing journey
In my previous column I noted how a single promotional site—Bookbub—helped set up the launch of my second book (Tommy Black and the Coat of Invincibility) by powering over 13,000 free downloads of book one (Tommy Black and the Staff of Light). In this column, I want to talk about free. Free as in giving away free books and the power of free promotion.
In self-publishing circles, the power of free is well-known, and it is one of the key ways that a self-publisher can outmaneuver a traditional publishing house, as major publishers are loathe to give their books away for free. There are two ways this is generally done. The first is to make the very first book in a series permanently free. Readers get a whole book for free, and the theory is that once they love the first book, they’ll buy the rest of the books in the series. This works, and has powered many a self-published author’s career.
Related to the above is to do what I did with my first Tommy Black book: Create a huge promotion that will lead to a high ranking in the Amazon free store, with the goal that that temporary surge will lead to both greater interest in the series so that you not only sell other books in the series (called sell-through), but you also generate interest in book one once the free promotion is over.
The power of free was further confirmed for me when Bookbub agreed to do a free promotion for my second book. Generally speaking, most authors that utilize free do not do a free promotion for the second book because if you gave away the first book and you give away the second book, what do you have left to sell?
My theory was that there are so many readers out there, that even though it would cost me some sales, it would generate more in book one. That turned out to be true, as when Bookbub did the free promotion of book two, I did a discounted price promotion of book one, and it sold over 300 copies in one day, which is a huge number. The total sales from that promotion and subsequent days was hundreds of dollars.
Bookbub costs money, and for some genres it costs a lot of money. But there is valuable promotion that you can receive that is free, and, interestingly, this is some of the best promotion you can get. I found this out first-hand with Tommy Black and the Coat of Invincibility. Generally speaking, free promotion is when a blog or news site showcases your book or when a famous author promotes it on social media.
For Tommy Black and the Coat of Invincibility, I was able to use relationships I had built over the years to request and receive two major pieces of press: io9.com, the largest science fiction and fantasy website on the Internet, showcased the book on, and that coverage led to over 100 sales at full price. The next week, bestselling author John Scalzi showcased the book on his very popular blog, and I again sold dozens of copies.
I should note that this column series could also be considered a free form of promotion for my books, although I hope that you all also see value in my columns!
One of the most difficult things to do as a writer is to take stock and figure out what to do when all your promotional efforts are over. For Tommy Black, I’ve done nearly everything I could do—I released the second book; I secured two Bookbubs; I ran a price discount promotion; I generated press and coverage on major sites, and I promoted via social media. What else is there for me to do while I work on book three?
Well, that’s the tough thing … outside of the advertising you can do on Facebook and Google and other places, there isn’t a whole lot. For self-publishers, new releases generally drive ongoing sales. So the promotional story for my experience with Tommy Black will have to end here, but I do have one more column to write: My experience with Amazon and the other online bookstores. I’ll examine how self-publishers deal with various booksellers in my next and final column.