By Porter Anderson / @Porter_Anderson
New: Library Patrons Are a Click Away From Buying Your Books
Making the vast SELF-e library discovery platform even better for indie authors’ books, the team at BiblioBoard this month has added buy buttons to listings, allowing library patrons the chance not only to check out an author’s work but also buy it for themselves and others.
Authors: If you haven’t seen it yet, watch for an email from SELF-e announcing the buy buttons. And read it carefully, just in case you’re one of the folks the team needs to hear from about the proper link to use for your sales.
Librarians: The buy-button feature of SELF-e listings is a cool extension of the kinds of events some libraries are holding in which authors sign and sell books. Should you feel the need to, you can turn off the buy links off for your subset of patrons. Be in touch if you have any questions.
The arrival of buy buttons in the SELF-e system brings to mind the question of how writers are using “perma-free” — books offered free of charge, usually as a leader to other titles.
For a year or more, the basic effectiveness of offering free titles has generally been questioned. Industry observers tend to agree that the problem is the one I term the “Wall of Content” — digital publishing has simply enabled so much publishing, both in the trade and by independents, that readers are overwhelmed with the available inventory (which makes the SELF-e discovery platform all the more valuable, of course). Once a consumer has 20, 50, 70 ebooks on his or her devices, “FREE!” starts to mean a bit less. Tablets, e-readers, smartphones are packed with unread books: so the uptake on free offers may seem slower than it once was.
Nevertheless, as you’ll see in our survey of authors here, perma-free is very much in place as a standard operating tactic in series work for many writers.
In the wider marketplace today, author advisor Jane Friedman, who’s my colleague in producing the bi-weekly Hot Sheet subscription industry newsletter for authors, says that one new wrinkle in the concept of “perma-free” is to think of ebooks offered through Amazon’s huge Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscription program as “free” — in hopes, of course, of getting some payment for pages read when a KU customer reads part or all of their book(s).
This tactic, then, means placing perhaps the first book in a series into KU to lead readers to the rest of the series. In a KU subscriber then picks up that first book in the series and reads it, the subscriber may think of it as “free” because it’s on the KU all-you-can-read format. But in reality, the author is getting something per page. (Amazon adjusts the size of the overall Global Select Fund monthly.)
Our SELF-e Author Panel
Against this background, we wanted to find out what some leading SELF-e authors might be doing in terms of perma-free and what their views might be on effective strategies.
We asked (from left) Jules Barnard, James Thorn (who publishes as J. Thorn), and April White to give us their input.
Jules Barnard is a RITA-nominated author,who began publishing in 2014 with Deep Blue, the first book in the contemporary Blue Series, making it onto romance bestseller lists. In 2015, she launched Fates Divided, the first of a romantic fantasy series that SELF-e partner Library Journal calls “…an exciting new fantasy adventure.” She’s based in Santa Cruz and has one title with SELF-e, Deep Blue (Blue Series, Book 1).
J. Thorn, in Amazon author rankings, is a Top 100 Most Popular Author in Horror, Science Fiction, Action & Adventure and Fantasy. He has sold more than 150,000 books worldwide, and in March 2014 held the No. 5 position in Horror alongside his childhood idols Dean Koontz and Stephen King (at Nos. 4 and 2, respectively). He’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association and a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. J. is a contributor to disinformation.com and a staff writer for HeavyPlanet.net as well as a founding board member of the Author Marketing Institute. He’s based in Cleveland and he has one title, Reversion: The Invisible Horror (The Portal Arcane Series, Book 1) with SELF-e. Thorn also notes that he has many of his titles in bundled collections that are part of BiblioBoard’s “Indie Rock Star” package.
April White has been a film producer, private investigator, bouncer, teacher and screenwriter. She has climbed in the Himalayas, survived a shipwreck, and lived on a gold mine in the Yukon. All four books in her Immortal Descendants series are on the Amazon Top 100 lists in Time Travel Romance and Historical Fantasy. White is based in Los Angeles, and she has one title, Marking Time (The Immortal Descendents series, Book 1) with SELF-e.
Here are some of the questions we put to our trio of experienced, successful indies, and their responses.
SELF-e: How many titles do you have using perma-free in regular commercial channels such as Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and others?
- Barnard: One, first in the Blue Series.
- Thorn: One, Preta’s Realm: The Haunting (The Hifdden Evil Trilogy, Book 1). He adds: “I was using KDP Select free days as early as 2011 although I had no clue what I was doing then. I tend to use the first book in a series (perma-free) as a reader magnet for mailing list sign ups and for overall visibility on sales platforms.”
- White: One, first The Immortal Descendents series.
SELF-e: Based on your experience, would you recommend that authors use perma-free in sales settings in general?
- Barnard: “Yes, using perma-free for the first title in a series can help an author build readership. A free book is a no-harm way for a reader to take a chance on an author who is new to them. The more books in a series, the better, but I recommend at least two other titles be out in a series before making the first book perma-free. Running promotions on the first book (versus later books in the series), seems to work the best. This was also the advice I received from BookBub when I ran my last advertisement with them.”
- Thorn: “Yes, although the reach of perma-free isn’t as far as it used to be. There are more free books available today than any one person could ever hope to read in a lifetime.”
- White: “Absolutely. In my experience, it’s very difficult to make money on just one book. I made Marking Time free when I published Book 2 in the series, and instantly my daily sales of Book 2 were three or four times what Marking Time alone had sold. I’ve also had great success with big promotions (BookBub) for the free book, with 20,000 downloads in a single day. That always drives sales up for the other books for the rest of the month, with a big boost in reviews for the free book.”
SELF-e: Are you going the route that some authors are going of submitting just one title to SELF-e? Or are you submitting more?
- Barnard: “I’m staying with one title in SELF-e at the moment — my perma-free, Deep Blue. If I drop another book to perma-free, I would definitely submit it to SELF-e for consideration.”
- Thorn: “I only have one title in SELF-e at the moment. As my back catalog grows (I hope to publish at least four novels in 2016), I will have more flexibility with my titles. I think it’s hard for authors with just a handful of published books to justify the perma-free strategy.”
- White: “I’m happy to put my whole series in libraries, so I’ll likely be submitting more than just Book 1.”
SELF-e: What is your feeling about libraries and sales?
Barnard: “Any exposure is good exposure, even if a reader doesn’t want or have the means to go on to buy other titles in the series. Brand recognition and word of mouth are both extremely important for driving an author’s career.”
Thorn: “Libraries have existed for thousands of years and people who read tend to visit them. Therefore, I don’t see a downside to having my books in a library, whether they be in paperback or digital format. Name valuation would be most important to me as an author with subsequent sales as a secondary motivation.”
White: “I find that library readers tend to stay within the library system if they can find all the books they want there, and for my purposes, discoverability and building a strong readership is my main motivation for placing my books in libraries. I have purchased books from authors I’ve found in libraries, but it’s usually out of frustration that the rest of the books aren’t carried there.”
Our thanks to our author-respondents to our questions here: all the best, Jules, J., and April with your careers!
If you’re interested in submitting more of your titles to SELF-e, consider submitting via our second annual contest for the chance to win a review in Library Journal’s December Best Books edition of the print magazine, $1,000, a chance to be featured at an awards reception at ALA Midwinter and more. Submit today!