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Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books.

Your most loyal readers are invested in you, the author.

Pre-internet, “you” consisted of your writing voice, an author photo, and the occasional interview. Now we have the option of engaging our readers with stories of our lives, our writing process, and the interesting things we learn during book research — all of it augmented with pictures, videos, and the opportunity for readers to have a conversation through comments. 

This is where short stories have a serious promotional advantage over free books. 

I want you to imagine two scenarios of reader engagement.

1) Free Book Offer

You give away your book for a certain period of time. The word goes out over FB, Twitter, through your blog, and if you’re lucky, an aggregator of free book offers. Readers looking for free books click the link to your book. The best of these people first read the description of your book and only acquire if it fits their preferred genre. The worst will read anything, and if it’s not to their taste, they may leave a crappy review on Amazon or B&N (this happens). Because they went directly to the book’s purchase page, there is no need for them to visit your website or learn more about you. If your ebook is being given away through a print publisher, there may not even be a hotlink to your website at the end of the ebook. If there is, it’s often unhandy to surf the Web on a dedicated ebook device.

2) Free Short Story Offer

You give away a short story, set in your series’ universe and with your characters, on your website. The word goes out as before, ideally with a photo that is larger than the average book-cover thumbnail. The reader goes to your website, sees a photo of you, sees the covers and titles of your other books in the sidebar or banner. Ideally, they begin reading the story immediately, because it doesn’t require a big time requirement. You include photos in the text that evoke the location, any featured animals, something that sets a mood. At the bottom, within the text, you include a personal note that says you hope they enjoyed it. They should feel free to pass it on. You encourage them to sign up for your email list, so they know when more free stories come out. Look, the email sign up box is right there on the right, see? And of course, if they liked the story universe, here are links to the first few chapters of your books, with links to buy at the end.

Unlike a temporary free book offer, your short story will always be free.

That blog post will work for you ad infinitum, not for a limited time. Along with other items on your website, that story is searchable, and contains key words that bring readers to your site through Google searches. If you want, you can put your books on sale when you promote a new short story, to sweeten the deal. 

I want you to imagine that instead of selling books, we’re selling food.

Let’s say there were as many manufacturers of food products as there are authors, and they came out with new items as often as we come out with new books, and they gave them away for a week at grocery stores. What would happen?

People would never have to buy food again.

When you go to a grocery story, those food demo people aren’t giving away free dinners. No, they give away samples, and often a coupon to buy the full item at a discount. 

We should stop giving whole dinners away. Get your readers to your website and give them a free sample. Engage them with photos, stories of your life, and links to free chapters of your other books. Give them the opportunity to buy a book on sale, if you want.

When enough authors give away books, people never have to buy books again.

This blog post is a follow up to My Plea to Self-Published Authors, which talks about ways short stories are better for readers as well as authors, and one author’s success with short stories. I hope you’ll consider passing these articles along, or writing your own post on the benefits of giving away short stories rather than whole books. If you do, send me a link to your post through my Contact Page, so I can pass it around.

Next time, I’ll talk about what Amazon could do to help us sell more books.  

My Plea to Self-Published Authors

Don’t give your ebooks away.

Why?

Even one day of pricing your ebook at $0.00, multiplied by countless authors, means readers never have to buy a book again. 

Hey, I’ve given away books in the past. But then I discovered that, as a reader, I could find enough free ebooks on one Facebook page, in one genre, in one week, to meet my reading needs for the next year. Sure, some of them are dreck, but there are enough enjoyable books to keep my entire family happily reading for free. And this is not a good thing. 

There has never been a better time to be an author, if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot. 

The ebook is a revolution right up there with the printing press. For the first time, authors can market and sell directly to consumers. Now, I understand that we don’t have any control over whether Amazon gives our books away. But Amazon provides only a fraction of the freebies out there, and they do a lot of promoting of those authors, so that compensates. Let’s take Amazon off the table and discuss what we can control.  

How can new self-published authors promote their work, if not with free stuff?

  • Write short stories set in your books’ universe, and give those away.

A good author friend of mine, Lynda Hilburn, has had tremendous success with this strategy. Every time she put out a free short story and notified the Kindle boards, all of her books got a bump in sales. She was making serious money on her self-published books – enough that a big-name agent took notice and got her a print offer she couldn’t refuse.

Free short stories instead of books benefit readers, too.

  • You can judge an author’s voice in the first couple of pages of a book, but you can’t judge their ability to tell a story until you read the whole thing — and readers often wish they had that time back. A short story lets readers know if they like an author in a fraction of the time. 
  • Short stories can be placed outside the time frame of the author’s fictional universe. Let’s say I’m offered a free book, but it’s third in the series. That’s not an ideal situation. I’d prefer to sample the author without any spoilers for books one and two. 

The lure of free is too strong. 

When Amazon made their free Kindle reading app available, my purchases of books skyrocketed. But when everyone started giving books away in promtions, my purchases plummeted to the few authors I was determined to support. The lure of free books is too strong for most of us. We wind up reading books out of order, moving on to the next free thing instead of buying an author’s other books, and spending a lot of time half-heartedly reading full-length books, trying to decide if we like the story enough to keep going. 

So that’s my plea. Give away a sample of your talent, then price the ebook such that readers don’t hesitate to buy — the cost of a nice cup of coffee seems to work well. And of course, giving one book away in a contest, or for charity, is a different thing. 

Please spread the word.

The internet is huge. If even a fraction of authors continues to give their books away, we’re screwed. I hope you’ll share this post or write your own. Get the word out. 

Don’t give your ebooks away.

Feel free to read my follow-up post, Engagement. Why free short stories are better promo than free books, which explains how to use short stories to increase reader engagement and bring more people to your website.

Chihauhua of the Baskervilles now in Paperback

Hi, kids! Just a heads up that the first book in the Tripping Magazine mystery series is available in paperback as of today, and they have dropped the Kindle price to match ($7.99). Remember, you don’t need a Kindle device – you can download a free app to your PC, Mac, iPad, smartphone, Blackberry, or tablet.

 

 

The Portrait of Doreene Gray, second in the series, comes out July 3. Right now it has an Amazon pre-order price of $15.35 for the hardcover, $11.99 for Kindle. That Kindle price will probably stay the same until there’s a paperback, but the hardcover price will likely go up a couple of bucks when it officially comes out.

Reviews for The Portrait of Doreene Gray:

“A little bit X-Files, a little bit Agatha Christie and a whole lotta charming. If you like your mysteries baffling, bizarre and, above all, fun, you’re going to love it.” — Steve Hockensmith, author of the New York Times best seller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the Edgar Award nominee Holmes on the Range.

“The three quirky main characters add an appealingly hip edge to the cozy core of Allbritten’s sequel to 2011’s Chihuahua of the Baskervilles” —Publishers Weekly

Want to read the first couple of chapters of either book? Be my guest.

Excerpt, Chihuahua of the Baskervilles

Excerpt, The Portrait of Doreene Gray

And if you’ve already read Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, don’t miss the free short story I wrote using some of the same characters.

Cocaine Blues is FREE today!

This is the first book in my favorite mystery series EVER, and you can get it free today (and remember, you don’t need a Kindle device, just download one of their free apps). If you’ve never read one of the Phryne Fisher books, I envy you. You have the whole series ahead of you. Enjoy!

Get it while it’s still a buck…

I’ve submitted a price change to Kindle for Jokers & Fools, from .99 to 2.99. If you haven’t gotten it and want to, now is the time, before it takes effect.

Where Mystery Readers Go

Must Read Mysteries not only sells print mysteries, but also makes readers aware of new releases, sales, and free ebook mysteries through their Facebook page. They’re a fantastic resource, so I was extremely geeked when Mr. Must Read Mysteries (Scott) asked if I’d like to guest post on their blog.

You can find me there tomorrow, Wednesday, writing on Death and Comedy. I think it’s worth reading if only for the joke at the end.

Simultaneous ebook release for Chihuahua of the Baskervilles!

This is exciting! I just got on Amazon.com and saw that Chihuahua of the Baskervilles will be released simultaneously in hardback and ebook versions (Kindle and Nook)! The price for both platforms is $10.99. If you’ve pre-ordered the hardback and would prefer the ebook version, I think you can log onto your online bookstore account and cancel the hardback order. The ebook version has a pre-order option as well. Don’t hesitate to buy the the lower-priced ebook on my account. I get a bigger percentage of those sales. :)

How to send documents to a Kindle

It’s not hard to send and receive documents and have them show up on a Kindle. What is hard is finding the instructions, so I’m putting them in this blog post.

Each Kindle device has its own email address. With the device on, press the Menu button and select Settings. Your Kindle’s “name”@kindle.com e-mail address is listed under Device E-mail. Use the same name to also send documents to your Kindle at “name”@free.kindle.com . Just stick “free.” in front of the “kindle” part of your email and you won’t get charged anything. Give that email address to the person who is sending the document.

Now, not any person can send to that address, or you’d be getting a whole lot of spam. The person with the Kindle needs to let the device know to accept a document from a certain email address.

To do this, go to Amazon.com and click on My account toward the upper right corner. Scroll down to Digital Management and click Manage YourKindle.

Amazon will have you sign in.

Under Your Kindle Approved email List, type in the email of the person who is sending the document and click Add Address.

Now all the person has to do is send the document from the approved email address to the email of the Kindle device. Kindles will accept unprotected Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML, TXT, RTF, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRC and MOBI files. As I recall, whatever is in the subject line of the email shows up where a book title would normally be. It might take a little time. Give it at least an hour before you start freaking out. And of course, the Kindle will need to be in a wifi zone or have 3G turned on or whatever in order to receive the document.

Those are the basic instructions for an all-text document that’s roughly book size. PDF files can be converted to Kindle format by typing “convert” in the subject heading of the email. If you’re doing more exotic things, go to this link for more instructions.

If these instructions don’t work for you, please let me know that in the comments.

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