The Experiment Ends (And Other News)

As noted on Monday, I was trying a little experiment: I flung my Atlanta Burns novella, SHOTGUN GRAVY, up onto Amazon’s exclusive Kindle “KDP Select” program which purports to offer authors two key benefits: first, the ability to take part in Kindle lending which further grants authors access to a large “pot” of money monthly; second, the advantage (or, some might say, “advantage”) of putting your work up online for free.

As of late, a number of folks have noticed a phenomenon. You put your work up for free, and then when it once more re-enters paid gravity, suddenly the book becomes a Purchasing Magnet whereupon droves and flocks and herds and gaggles of Amazon readers come out of the woodwork to buy the recently-free book. A lot of authors have been attempting to jump this promotion’s bones (evidenced by the sudden flurry of “My work is free suddenly!” broadcasts).

Well, I figured, let’s try it.

SHOTGUN GRAVY‘s a novella that did well in its first month but kind of tapered off — it gets a sale or three a day, which is fine and adds to the whole pile, but it’s not exactly a rocketship to the money moon. Further, if I’m going to justify putting out the sequel, BAIT DOG, I figured I damn well better get the book into people’s hands. Free or not.

I originally put the book up for five days. You only get one five-day-period during your 90-day reign of exclusivity, however — so, I figured, I’d better chop it down to two.

Here’s how it went.

Putting the book up for free amassed a sudden burst of books distributed (I dare not use the word “sold” since, well, you don’t pay for a free book with anything but a stab of your finger on a mouse button). Right out of the gate, had about 100 people nab the book. Which was curious — where the hell did they come from? Are they real people? I don’t even know.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, I amassed over 5000 copies distributed free to readers. A nice enough number. Happy to have the book on a heap of Kindles, though one supposes that a good percentage of those will never read the book — perhaps I’m being cynical, but I know that the less I pay for a book, the lower it falls in my To-Be-Read pile. By yesterday morning, the book had reached #44 in the Top 100 Free and so I thought, now’s a good time to cut short the five days to two days. I went to end it thinking that I’d still get two full days of the promo — but within 30 minutes of asking the promo to end, it ended, lickity-split.

Which is fine, but I didn’t expect it to work that fast. Amazon can be notorious for veeeeeery sloooowly updating things — even a simple price change can take up to 48 hours to populate.

So, then. Results?

I did not initially see any boost in sales. Hour or two went by and the e-book didn’t move one whit. But then, ping — a sale. Okay, fine. Then another, and another. Steadily — and slowly, mind — the e-book sold about 60 copies. (This is as of 7:00PM last night.) It’s since not moved again in about an hour. The book crested to Amazon ranking #1,793. Further, it garnered another six reviews during that period (all four- and five-star).

(I’d politely ask that if you procured my book — or any book! — for free, leave a review upon reading it?)

Now, many have reported that a bigger sales boost occurs two to three days after the free promo ends. Not sure if that’ll happen here, but I’m damn sure gonna keep my eyes peeled.

Assessment of results?

Good, I guess. I’m happy to have the novella in the hands of 5000 more theoretical readers. I would have preferred they pay the buck for it, but if that means I’ve got more folks willing to chip in for BAIT DOG or other work of mine, that’s great.

This leads to the question, did I experience a sales boost of my other e-books?

I did not.

Quite the contrary, actually.

Soon as I triggered the free promo, my e-book sales over that two-day period were cleanly halved in twain. That’s kinda weird. I mean, I have no evidence that it has anything to do with the free promo — why would it? Surely it’s coincidence. Only thing I can think of is that there seems to exist some strange internal Amazon promotional algorithm that us Human Beings cannot access lest it overload our mental circuitry. Something about how books achieve rankings and show up under other books and appear on the main page and so on and so forth. If this is true, one could theorize that triggering the SG free promo… I dunno, rearranged the promotional eggs in the digital egg basket Amazon built for me.

Which makes little sense, but there it is.

We’ll see if sales rebound. Gods, I hope so — January has been a really stupendous month in terms of getting the e-books out there. Which leads me to…

Brand New E-Book Promo

Buy any of the following books on writing during the month of February:

CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY

REVENGE OF THE PENMONKEY

500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER

And I’ll comp you a copy of:

250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING.

If you procure via PDF, you don’t need to do anything. You’ll get 250 Things automatically.

If you procure via other methods (Amazon, B&N), send me proof of purchase to:

terribleminds at gmail.

Other Stuff

Let’s see, let’s see…

Just finished the first official (third unofficial) draft of MOCKINGBIRD. Off to the Robot!

Will today also finish the first draft of DINOCALYPSE NOW.

The Washington Post calls me a “death blogger” and “macabre mastermind” in a piece about my collaborative storytelling and art Tumblr project, This Is How You Die. Reminder, of course, that the How You Die blog is always taking submissions — text, photo, song, art of any variety, all about how you might die. (More information here.)

I also get a shout-out at Huffington Post courtesy of Amy Edelman and Melissa Foster in a piece called, “The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously.”

BLACKBIRDS gets its first official review (from Fantasy Nibbles, tee hee) — and it’s glowing! (“…a truly unforgettable heroine driving the action. The writing is razor sharp throughout, and I’m genuinely concerned that I might be a little bit messed up for enjoying this one so much.”)

Oh, and then the book gets another glowing review from New York Journal of Books! Woo. (“Author, screenwriter, and writing advice guru Chuck Wendig creates a compelling tale with an even more compelling protagonist in Miriam Black: a tough, street wise survivor who finally escapes her troubled childhood only to find that she can’t escape herself. Despite her fairly macabre lifestyle, Miriam has a strength and sarcastic wit that makes her very likeable and strangely sympathetic.”)

And My Bookish Ways throws DOUBLE DEAD into the review machine and gives it a 5 outta 5, baby. (“Double Dead is a terrifying, violent, American road trip through zombie hell.”)

Finally, TALES FROM THE FAR WEST — a rad-ass Wild West Wuxia mash-up short story collection based on Gareth Skarka’s Far West storyworld drops in e-book format (and soon, print). I’m in here surrounded by some of my favorite people — Will Hindmarch, Eddy Webb, Ari Marmell, Matt Forbeck, Jason Blair. My story — “Riding the Thunderbird” — is about a girl, an outlaw, and a herd of storming thunderbirds.

38 comments

  • Could it be that folks saw that you had a free promo on one of your books and decided to hold off on the others just in case you planned to do the same with those in the near future?

    • @David –

      It’s possible (and if that’s the case then that’s a pretty epic downside to experimenting with the KDP Select program) — but the thing is, my audiences aren’t universally shared between fiction and non-fiction books, so I’m not sure folks were even all that aware of it.

      – c.

  • Dude, you rock! OMG, but I’d be proud of all this–especially love the review, “Double Dead is a terrifying, violent, American road trip through zombie hell.”

    Your writing advice is always fantastic, too.

  • Fascinating experiment, Chuck. I’ll be interested to see whether sales on your other fiction works start to pick up in a week or two, when more of the 60+ post-sales and the umpty-thousand free downloaders have finished reading it.

    (In my head I picture Kindle Fire users mashing buttons like Pavlovian helper monkeys every time the word ‘free’ pops up on their screen. Some of them have surely got to progress beyond that point to becoming actual readers, right? They probably just have a lot of other free/rented stuff to read first)

  • I bought Shotgun Gravy based on reading your blog-found it fascinating so can’t wait for the next one! I think the experiment was interesting. Not sure that you have gotten to all the answers it may provide but time will tell. I agree that when I get a book for free on my Kindle I sometimes forget to read it. Usually I have to make a note of the name/author or I will lose track of it. However, thought I would add that I just did purchase Double Dead and can’t wait for Blackbirds. I will remember to read them without needing a note!!! I plan to check out your writing advice books and see which one will help me stay on track with my own writing-again-another good experiment.

  • Chuck, you leave a dramatic impression on anyone lucky (or smart) enough to discover your work. Like you or not, you leave an indelible impression on any cognitively engaged mind. The stats and documentation of this experiment may not indicate an immediate benefit, but I would lay money that the “long tail” returns will be dramatic. (In fact… I WILL lay money on it… buying “500 Ways…” today). ; )

    • @Dave –

      Hey, I hope so — at the very least, if even 10% of those 5000 new readers (“Readers?”) feel like picking up Blackbirds or Bait Dog or whatever, that’s a good investment.

      If not, then, well. Oops.

      – c.

  • I’m one of those souls who nabbed Shotgun Gravy for free. Will review it on the bloggie and the Amazons sooner than later. In fact, I’ll have a LOT of your stuff for review from February to April.

  • The whole “FREE” thing is going to pay off at different levels for everyone. For authors, FREE can do many things:
    -Boost the visibility of an unknown
    -ENcourage readers to take a chance on a little-known
    -DIScourage buyers from buying in the hopes of scoring a FREE down the road, depending on your FREE habits
    -Attract a wider audience (although much of that audience might be the digital equivalent of an episode of “Hoarders.”
    -Boost sales/encourage adoption of a series
    -Reward newer or more casual readers

    But as a reader, I can tell you that FREE doesn’t attract me like it used to. I will use FREE as a reader to:
    -Test-drive a series
    -Pick up an extra of a world I’ve already invested in
    -Download, but not necessarily get around to reading right away, an author I know from Twitter or the blogosphere, to show support. However, the FREE is usually not in my TBR-priority pile. Sad to say, but as a reader, I perceive a FREE is going to be something that’s maybe not the most precious or best example of where the author’s heart is (and that may be me the author talking as well–you don’t give away the best cuts of meat, you save ‘em and stuff the rest in intestines with spices and oatmeal, shove a stick into them, and hand ‘em out like lollies ’cause the kids love ‘em).

    I will tell you, that what attracts me MORE as a reader AND a writer is the value-add. I value things I pay for, and if I get something for free *along with it* I can value that “free” as a “free with purchase.” So it takes some commitment from me to acquire it, and I value it more than just a no-commitment “free.”

    • Some of it has to go beyond luck into a programmatic algorithmic function — right? I mean, if this KDP-to-free-to-big-seller phenomenon is a real thing, then you’re looking at an exploit (a legitimate exploit, one assumes) of the system. Something Amazon either intends or doesn’t, I dunno, but is there just the same.

      It’s interesting.

      – c.

  • I’m reading it out loud to my husband while he cooks and don’t want to write a review till I can do so intelligently. I would give it some time to increase sales for this same reason. Once I’ve decided I like someone I am likely to purchase all their work. One at a time. In order, especially if I am reading via ebooks.

  • I picked up Shotgun Gravy for free.

    I think it’s a great way to determine if I’ll like your fiction.

    I have purchased some of your other (non-fiction) books and loved them, so I’m optimistic.

    (minor friendly gripe: The first book I bought is the book you keep giving away if we purchase the others lol. I really enjoyed 250 things)

    It’s not that I wouldn’t want to pay the buck (or whatever the price), it’s more of case of “no brainer” syndrome. It’s free, easy to get, so why not? Click. It cost me nothing but the click, so I don’t feel guilty not reading it right away.

    When announced, it was easy to get, but it was a buck (or whatever)…not a very high price, in fact it’s a good price, but I’ve already got 20 or 30 books I’ve bought recently that I want to slog through, so that buck kinda pushed it into “we’ll check it out later” category. It’s weird, it’s unfair and doesn’t make much sense, but it’s my story.

  • It’s really interesting to hear you report back on these experiments, and I appreciate the insight. When I get my tomes of madness out there it will be good information to have.

    And I have purchased Atlanta Burns just now, so you’ll have at least one sale today. I’m stuffed up with a head cold, so I will be conducting an experiment myself: What’s it like to be drugged up on Robitussin and read Chuck’s stuff?

  • Just thought it might interest you to know that I was one of the readers who did pick up “Shotgun Gravy” for free during your promotion. I was also then compelled to go and buy, “CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY,” “500 WAYS TO BE A BETTER WRITER,” “250 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT WRITING.” I just bought them through B&N since I have a NOOK. :)

  • Just a quick suggestion. I have a novella that has sat at $0.99 for a while. Sales have been okay, around 2-3 a day across all distributors, which I was happy with particularly since I just started up the whole author website/twitter/promo engine at the first of the year. I decided to bump the price up to $1.99. I was expecting sales to go down, but the question was how far? There is a certain point at which it’s still profitable (basically up to half). But the main reason I tried it was that at a lower price, I was clearly getting people who hadn’t bothered to read the blurb or sample. It clearly was not for them, leading to low reviews that stated that this subject was not for them, and so I postulated that a slightly higher price would make them think twice. Yay, rhyming. Anyway, as soon as I hit the switch to $1.99, sales starting coming in 7-10 a day. I said nothing about this price change on my website or anything, I just did it. And the change was almost immediate, with no other promo done for this book. The only explanation I can think of it that people are equating higher quality with higher price. Not complaining :) I tried the same thing with my other novella, and it experienced the same exact jump. Since then the first one held steady at the higher rate of sale while the other has wavered, but either way I’m making more money. As for whether it achieved my previous goal of making people read the blurb and sample first, thus leading to a more targeted readership, that has yet to be seen.

  • I did it. I bought my first ebook from your promo. I’ve been reading the site for a long time, and love it. Your advice is great, and easily worth the $2.99.

    Thanks for all you do, and how you do it.

    Jeff

  • Reading is a bit like eating. If you’re giving food away for free it’s gonna be awhile before I buy food. But rest assured I will get hungry and if I liked the free meal, I’ll be buying…enough amateur Freakonomics.

    I bought Cofessions and liked it, I will try Atlanta (paid). Your blog is really interesting…I feel guilty for the free stuff you publish …so I will likely continue to buy here and there…

  • Hmmm… interesting. I guess the sales can go either way with a Free-Book promo. I mean, either it can lead to word-of -mouth sales, or otherwise people who might have bought the book before now got it for free.

  • I was one of the 5000 to grab a free copy and I’ll be purchasing the rest as they’re released.
    It’s like dealing – the first taste is free and now I’m hooked.

    I already have 250 things and Double Dead (favorite) and now I’ll be collecting all the Wendig I can.

  • Got Shotgun Gravy when it was free, bought Double Dead, and have 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer. Actually, tell you the truth, I pretty much have all of your books exceot for Blackbirds. I’m waiting for that one to become an e-book so I can fill my electronic shelves. Double Dead has to be my favourite, though. Hands down.

  • Oh, sure, free ‘sounds’ good, but I prefer to pay for my reading brain-fodder, thank you very much.
    It’s like this: I can’t really afford to support the developers of my video game hobby at $60 per, but I can do so for my favorite authors. Therefore, I do.
    I did so with both Irregular Creatures and Shotgun Gravy, both via my Nook. I consumed both in an evening, and I will keep them archived for re-eating.

    Mmmm, tasty creatures with gravy…

  • Well after seeing Shotgun Gravy go up for free I forced several people I know, who may have been reluctantly to pay (even though it is cheap normally) to grab it. Resulted in some decisions amongst them to purchase at least Double Dead and Irregular Creatures. (Non writers)

    Sadly I already own everything that you currently have available.

    Write. More. Books.

  • Alright, if this ends up being some sort of freakish double posting I apologize. The comment system here is freaking me out.

    SO.

    I forced some people I know who normally might be reluctant to pick up Shotgun Gravy, despite its low cost. It resulted in a couple of sales of Double Dead and Irregular Creatures.

    As for me, I’ve run out of your stuff to buy.

    Fix this. Please. I can feel the shakes coming back already.

  • I had already bought “Double Dead” when I downloaded “Shotgun Gravy”. I did come back for “500 ways…” and may yet be back for “Irregular Creatures.” Since I’m a Kindle Newbie, you already have a hefty market share of my virtual bookshelves. Only John Scalzi has nearly as many books on my shelves as you. Nearly. That said, I’m extremely misery when it comes to personal outlay, since I’m not the one in this marriage earning the big bucks. Or, come April, the bucks of any size….

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