I have mixed feelings about self-published books being given away free of charge. This practice seems to devalue all the hard work of their authors, and can perpetuate the belief that they are inferior to books from traditional publishers. Although a free ebook will usually get far more downloads than one which carries a price tag, many of these will be from undiscerning readers who are not really interested in the content and may never even look at it at all. But in some circumstances, offering free books is worthwhile.
Some of the authors who write about self-help, educational or spiritual topics have altruistic motives, and would rather reach the widest possible audience than make any money. My little Bach flower book, which has always been free, continues to get thousands of downloads per year.
Turning to the profit motive, free books can be a “loss leader” to promote sales of other titles. This easy-to-use method of marketing is particularly recommended in the case of a series; readers who download the first one for free, and enjoy it, may go on to purchase the later ones too. For the reasons given above I am reluctant to use this strategy, though I may change my mind one day. But when sales of my own fiction books were flagging after Christmas, I decided to experiment with reducing their prices: currently the three novellas are just 0.99 USD each, and the box set is 2.99 USD. Details can be found on my Smashwords and Amazon author pages.
A variant of free promotion which I do like using is the Goodreads Giveaway programme, in which the print version of my Three Novellas will be included until 11th March. ( Click here to enter the draw for a free copy.) Winners in this programme are encouraged to post reviews on the Goodreads site, and they often do – hopefully these will be positive reviews, though even negative ones are better for publicity purposes than none at all.
Lastly, there is the option of sending free copies to journals and book blogs for review. One of the things I miss from my traditional publishing days is having this done for me, and I have only just started to explore it in my indie publishing career. I know that many professional reviewers are overwhelmed with submissions and cannot deal with them all, so I prefer to approach those who will accept ebooks. Sending out print copies without any promise of a response can prove a costly and futile exercise.
A box (or boxed) set is a group of related items – books, recordings of music or films, games – packaged together and sold as a single unit. With traditional book publishing these collections are literally presented in a cardboard box. With modern print-on-demand and electronic publishing the box is a virtual concept, though some ebook sets do have 3D covers. The set may contain either a series of titles arranged in the correct order, or a selection of related titles by one or more authors. Usually costing considerably less than than the sum of their individual parts, they are currently very popular. My own first (and last?) box set Three Novellas: Carmen’s Roses, Blue Moon for Bombers, The Windflower Vibration combines the three short books which I published last year and is available in paperback or ebook versions from Amazon and other online stores.
It can be very easy to create a box set just by combining the original files, and I would certainly advise against making non-essential changes to their content. But when I made mine I did take some time to merge the front matter and back matter; to correct a couple of typos which I had missed before; and to adjust for any discrepancies in formatting. For example I found that my use of italic script as opposed to quotation marks, and of UK as opposed to US spelling, had not been consistent between the three books.
In Carmen’s Roses, an Englishwoman visits Auckland in the hope of recovering from a serious illness, and of finding forgiveness for an incident related to a love affair from her past. Blue Moon for Bombers is set in middle England, and tells the story of a World War Two airman coming to terms with his repressed trauma, interwoven with a modern romance. In The Windflower Vibration, featuring some of the same characters and settings as the previous books, a sudden death on an Auckland beach sparks off a quest to unravel a complex web of mysteries spanning two centuries and two hemispheres. Many people have asked me if they are autobiographical, and the answer is “not exactly”, but they do reflect some of the themes from my own life: moving from England to New Zealand, practising both orthodox and alternative medicine, interests in animals, music, aviation and the paranormal. Here again is the link to the Amazon page – if you are interested please have a look, and share with your contacts – thank you.
I’ve just published Amazon Kindle editions of two of my books: Life’s Labyrinth: the path and the purpose and Focus on Healing: holistic self-help for medical illness. Both are also still available as ebooks on the Smashwords site.
I’ve enjoyed exploring the world of electronic self-publishing with its rapidly-evolving technology. Despite having only basic computer skills I found it quite easy to upload manuscripts – though did need help with text formatting and cover design. I love having the freedom to write whatever I like in my own time – seeing it online within a few hours after it’s ready – being able to edit and update later if need be – and to check on the sales figures as often as I wish – all without wasting any paper (having chosen not to make printed versions, although this too would be quite easy to do).
My past experience with traditional publishing has also been satisfying overall, despite the various trials and tribulations along the way – often waiting months for responses to submissions, getting the inevitable rejection letters not always kindly phrased (I was devastated by the early ones but eventually grew immune), more months of waiting after having manuscripts accepted, finding errors introduced into the proofs, and royalty payments representing scant return for the years of work involved. Self-publishing may seem painless in comparison, but perhaps the process has become too easy. Marketing is up to the authors themselves, and most of us are not very good at that. And now that so many people self-publish there may be more writers than readers. Most self-published books sell only than a handful of copies, and some sell none at all.
But, probably like most other people who were born with a compulsion to write, I feel it’s about passion rather than profit. Whatever publishing method is used, it’s rewarding to see the finished products out in the world, and hopefully get some good reviews. And, in the case of my medical books, the reward of having readers say they’ve found them helpful makes it all seem worthwhile.
I’m now working on another two books which I hope to finish later this year. Meanwhile, here again are the links to the new editions of Life’s Labyrinth and Focus on Healing.