Why Give Books Away for Free?

I just wrapped up a big free giveaway of my latest novel Children of a New Earth. Why giveaway books? Some indie authors and a lot of traditional publishers, hate free giveaways. They argue that a writer works hard and shouldn’t devalue their work by giving it away free. They argue that free and bargain books are creating a glut and a race to the bottom, where the only way to succeed is to give things away.

Other indie authors were happy to use free promotions, a couple of years ago. Free is dead, they say. Amazon algorithms once favored free. A free giveaway still counted as a sale and a big free promotion could drive up your sales rank significantly. Now the algorithm has changed and that no longer works.

I am sensitive to all these arguments, but free remains an important part of my marketing strategy and here’s why.

One of the best books I’ve read on marketing is Write. Publish. Repeat. One of the most important things I learned from the books is that you have to have a marketing strategy. A marketing strategy means an overall philosophy about how to market yourself and your books.

Without a strategy all you have is a collection of techniques. Some techniques work some of the time but not others. Some work for awhile until something changes. Other techniques work, but may work against each other if not guided by one philosophy.

Free promotions are a great example. They used to work great, propelling some indie to renown. Now they work less well. Amazon will change its algorithm again and we’ll see, they might work well again or they might work against the author.

Free compliments certain techniques but works against others. Imagine that an author uses any sort of hard sell technique to create a sense of urgency about buying their book. You hand over your money. Next weekend the same book is free. I’d be pissed.

According to the Write. Publish. Repeat. guys any artist in any medium can support themselves doing their work if they have one thousand true fans. True fans will buy your book as soon as it’s released. That alone makes them a valuable resource. Imagine getting a thousand sales the day you release. Imagine if one in ten wrote a review. That would be over a hundred reviews on your book.

But true fans will do more than that, they’ll talk about your book. They’ll share your message. They’ll come to your events and build buzz around you. Basically they’ll do all those things that authors attempt to fake with social media buzz and “street teams.”

One of the marketing strategies they talk about a lot in that book is finding your tribe. Finding your tribe means finding those thousand fans, those people who will love what you write, talk about what you write and share your message. To say that these fans are worth their weight in gold might be an exaggeration, but they are certainly worth the cost of one book, especially in the digital age.

My marketing strategy is heavily based on the notion of finding my tribe. I will bend over backwards to give you, or anyone, a chance to read my work, no strings attached. I have a couple free stories on Wattpad. I have a couple on my website as well. If you sign up for my newsletter I will give you a free book. I also run free promotions regularly. I do this because I have confidence that at least some of you will come back and join the tribe.

Join my email list right here:

Free when you sign up for my newsletter.

Free when you sign up for my newsletter.

Marketing in this way means I also measure success a bit differently. I like sales. Everyone likes making money and I do have the dream of doing this fulltime someday. But right now sales aren’t the only or even primary means that I measure success. I measure success in many milestones, followers on various social media, reads on my wattpad site, reviews on my published books. The one I love the best is personal feedback, of course. There is no greater thrill for an author than a letter or email from a reader who was touched by something you wrote.

However I choose to measure success on any given day, the point is to build a tribe around my work. That’s why I run free promotions of my books. Maybe someday, when I have more than a thousand true fans, I will reconsider my strategy, but I doubt it. This is the author I want to be, one who is known for being generous with her work and her time. One who values her fans as much as they value her.

And by the way, it’s not just indies that think this way. I would like to end off with an interesting interview with Neil Gaiman about putting his novel American Gods out for free.

 

What’s to Come in 2015

I can’t believe it’s almost 2015 already. 2014 has been a really good year. I put out four books in 2014. The Best Boy Ever Made came out in February and it’s been my best selling book so far. Bear Naked 2: Wolf Camp followed in April. Rosie and the Quarry Ghost came out in late summer and The Mage Chronicles just this month.

I’ve been transitioning from mostly writing YA to mostly writing science fiction and fantasy. In 2013 I released my first book as R. J. Eliason. In 2014 it was even, two YA novels as Rachel Eliason and two fantasy novels as R. J. Eliason. 2015 will be slanted even more towards fantasy. I have four books I plan to publish in 2015 and three of them will be under R. J. Eliason. When they come out is the three and half thousand dollar question.

Bear Naked 3: The Hunter and the Hunted

The next installment in the Bear Naked saga is almost ready to go. It’s with beta readers now and I am starting to get the feedback I need to clean up the final pieces of the story. I hope to have it to my editor by the first of the year and publish it sometime this spring.

Blurb:

When Uncle Darren goes missing on a winter camping trip, it’s up to Amanda and her gang to find him. The only problem is that where he went missing is Idaho, that’s Skinwalker territory and the Native American cousins aren’t always friendly with to Werewolves.

Children of a New Earth

This is the first novel I ever wrote. Like most first novels, it’s taken dozens of rewrites and a lot of work to make it good enough to publish. It is finally ready for the editor. It is a post apocalyptic novel with a twist.

Blurb:

Amy Beland has grown up constantly at odds with the men and the views of Freedom Ranch, a survivalist enclave buried deep in the Rocky Mountains. And yet it will fall to her to journey outside their valley for the first since the society collapsed, before she was even born, to save the ranch.

The Banner of Kash

The Banner of Kash is the next Gilded Empire book. It begins a trilogy of interconnected stories about the gnome race.

Blurb:

Kendran has been a ranger in the Border Legions for over twenty five years, ever since his brother caught him with another man. Now he’s been called back to the reservation because the same brother is in trouble. He must walk a world of divided loyalties and old race hatreds to learn the truth about an ancient relic of his people, the Banner of Kash.

The Agony, The Ecstasy and the Buddha.

A memoir about my month in Thailand, having a sex change operation. It’s been done in rough form for some time and is almost ready to for it’s final edits. I will likely publish it under Rachel Eliason.

The Three and a Half Thousand Dollar Question

When will these books be out? Well, I don’t know. Three are essentially ready for the editor. The fourth could be made ready with one hard push, maybe a few weeks.

As an indie author I pay for the editing, cover design, etc. up front. Once I’ve paid those costs, I get the lion’s share of the benefit. That’s the good part. The bad part is, I pay those cost up front. It’s not exactly cheap either. I generally estimate a little over a thousand dollars per book.

If you look at the costs individually, about half my books have broke even and are now making me money. The other books are on track to break even and I have faith they will all at least make as much money as I spent putting them out.

Collectively they earn me a small but steady side income. I am hoping that my business as a whole will break even and become profitable within the next couple years.

The challenge is that books don’t start earning money until they are out, after you’ve spent the up front cost. So the fastest way to earn money is to get the books out, but that requires having the money to put the books out.

Which brings us to the three and a half thousand dollar question. Can I find that much money? If so, should I spend it all at once and get the three nearly ready books on the market? Or should I wait and put them out as I can afford to, later in the year? I haven’t quite decided yet.

My Writing in 2015

Writing a book is a long project. I already have many of the books I will write in 2015 in the planning stages, with an eye towards what I will publish in 2016. Bear Naked is a series and book four is in planning stages. It might even be ready for fall of 2015, but I haven’t decided yet. The Banner of Kash is a trilogy and book two has been started in planning stages as well.

I have a science fiction series I want to start this year as well. It’s about first contact with the Galactic Consortium. It will be serialized in an episodic format, like a television series. The first “season” is the Girl in the Tank.

Blurb:

Leaving her children with an increasingly deadbeat husband and their sometimes dysfunctional grandmother is just one of the hardships of military service, Cheyenne Walker knows this. When conflict arises between the Consortium and China over the island of Taiwan, America is drawn in as uneasy Allies. A Chinese Nuclear Sub rises less than two hundred feet off the bow of the aging Burke Class Destroyer, the Cambridge, and Cheyenne’s duty as gunner, however painful, is clear. She must destroy the missile.

She finds herself floating in a Consortium medical tank, wondering if they really have the technology to rebuild her broken body, wondering if the political situation will stay stable enough for her to ever get back to America, or if she will see her kids again.

Stateside she is herald as a hero. On board the medical evac ship Corelean she struggles with divided loyalties and a growing attraction to her master healer, Lana. Will she return to America and the life she knew, or forge a new one among the stars?

Three Reasons I am Aggressively Building my Email List

And why, if you are a writer, you should too.

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I am working hard on building up a strong email list. By working hard, I am re-writing my appeal, creating a more central space on my website for that appeal and most importantly, I am giving away copies of my next book for free.

Why am I trying to build my list. Here are three simple reasons.

1. An email list is yours.

Email lists are platform independent. Many indie writers are too dependent on social media or a web platform (like a blogging site or retail site.) What happens if those sites change or disappear? It’s happened before and likely it will happen again.

Jeff Bezzo has said so. In an interview about Amazon.com’s disruption of traditional publishing he admitted that it was not only likely that some new site would someday disrupt and replace Amazon, it was inevitable.

These disruptions can be painful for both writers and readers. When Facebook changed the algorithm it uses to show posts, many bloggers and authors saw their page views plummet. But we aren’t the only ones who suffer. Fans who want to see our posts now don’t.

If you leave Facebook for whatever reason, there is almost no way to take your fan base with you. A tiny change in Google’s search engine could downgrade a popular website to obscurity. Amazon could change its royalty payouts (as critics keep fearing) and make it no longer profitable for Indies.

An email list is insurance against such disruptions. It’s the one thing you can download and walk away with. You can change social media focus, website and even retailer without losing those fans.

2. An email list takes a long time to build

Statistics show that authors with large email list make more money. I am more than a little suspicious of that statistic because it takes a long time to build a good email list, so those authors have likely been around longer and written more.

As I stick around longer and write more, that excuse is wearing thin. The fact that email lists take a long time to build is the best reason to get started now. Even if all you have is a half dozen emails and a short story on Wattpad to direct them to, start now. Your future self will thank you. When your books start coming out you will be ahead of the curve for once, not running to catch up.

3. Everyone’s doing it.

I don’t normally approve of peer pressure or doing what everyone else is doing, but I am making an exception here. One of my goals for 2014 was to learn book marketing. I’ve read dozens of books by successful Indie authors. They all agree on one point, email marketing is the most important first step.

 

So there you have it, three simple reasons why writers should have an email list. If you need more reasons, you will have to think of them yourself. I’ve got writing to do.

For readers, you can sign up for my newsletter and get a free copy of an epic fantasy.

 

 

The World Blog Tour

A huge thanks to author Stephen Brayton for including me in the world blog tour. His post can be found here. Stephen is author of Night Shadows:

Here are the four questions I was asked to answer for the tour:

1)What am I working on?

I am currently working on a novel about the Zombie Apocalypse.

 

2)How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I almost cringe when I say I am writing a Zombie novel because they are so popular. I am not one to jump on any bandwagon, and yet, I find myself writing a zombie novel.

My novel differs from most of the zombie novels and books I have encountered in three ways.

a) It’s part of a series and the series isn’t about zombies. It’s about apocalypses in general. The idea was to create a consistent setting and cast of characters and then compare how they do in various different apocalypse scenarios. This time its zombies, but next time it will be something else, a plague, a supervolcano, who knows.

b) Have you watched the show The Colony? It’s a reality show that puts a “cross section” of America into a post apocalyptic world to see how they would do. Their cross section includes some highly talented people including electrical engineers, handymen and martial arts experts. Where are the financial analysts, bankers, and stay at home moms?

The same problem exist with most zombie novels. The vast majority of America is not ready. How will they adapt and change? That is the focus of my novel. There are no heros. A few characters have survival skills. Most do not. Or they don’t think they do. They will discover, as the novel goes on, that some skills will translate into a post apocalyptic world but many will not. My story is about how ordinary people must learn to live in a very different world.

c) How does the zombie apocalypse get started anyway? Most novels and movies gloss over this point. They do this by jumping into the action and distracting the reader from asking hard questions. How do shambling beasts overtake the entire population? My novel has a timeline that goes from patient zero, the first zombie to the full blown apocalypse.

 

3)Why do I write what I do?

I write the stories that live in my head. I don’t have much choice about it sometimes. I am a lifelong day dreamer. I will catch myself dreaming a new story. I will let it go, let it grow in my mind until the idea just has to be written.

That said, I like characters who are quirky or different. I am really drawn to people who don’t fit in. The characters in my zombie novel are an eclectic group. Sometime they have nothing in common, or are even at odds with each other. When a national guardsman is called up to active duty, his conservative wife will be forced to rely on the help of the lesbian couple next door to survive. Can they learn to get along? We will see.

 

4)How does my writing process work?

I have heard it said that there are two kinds of writers, those who write by the seat of their pants and those who outline. I hate that saying because I do neither.

I am a storyboarder. I lay out my novels in a fluid, visual way. Scrivener is my favorite program to assist with this. I often start only knowing the main climax. One strong emotional image or scene is enough seed for an entire novel. I ponder the scene. Who is there? How did they get there? Why? Slowly I answer these questions and that suggests more scene. Each scene raises new questions that must be answered and the work continues.

I do this until I have the whole story fleshed out in my head. Then I write it all down. Its that simple.

Coming next week:

The World Blog Tour moves on to these two places:

A. R. Miller

armiller

A.R. Miller is best known for her adult, contemporary fantasy series, Fey Creations. In the past, her short stories ranged from YA to erotica, all with supernatural overtones.

When she’s not finding ways to torture characters and drive readers crazy with cliffhanger endings, her life consists of mundane homeowner tasks, keeping up to date with the beauty community, helping out behind the scenes at the local library and reading. She also enjoys connecting with other readers and writers across the interwebs.

She lives in Central Iowa with her husband and feline companion.

 

http://feycreations.com

armiller@feycreations.com

 C. Deanne Rowe

Headshot 3

C. Deanne Rowe was born and raised in Southern Oklahoma. She has lived in Texas, Nebraska and Iowa, settling in Iowa after she attended Oklahoma State University and married her high school sweetheart.

Writing became a passion as she was growing up beginning with poetry and later short stories. Her dream of becoming a published author was realized later in life, but was as powerful of a dream then as when she was younger.

Her fondness for Cowboys was realized when she became the author of her first book Cowboy Temptation ~ Colt and Cassy, the first in her Cowboy Temptation Series. She is also known as one of The Stiletto Girls, which have published anthologies in The Stiletto Series. Her latest book In the Heart of Valley is also available.

www.cdeannerowe.com | cdeanne@cdeannerowe.com

Cheryl Corbin

Cheryl Corbin writes adventures set in other worlds, aka science fiction and fantasy stories. She lives in Iowa and works with her writing partner, Yuki, a Bichon Frise, though Yuki spends more time sleeping than contributing to the story in progress. You can find Cheryl at www.cherylcorbin.com

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Looking for my tribe

The beauty of being an indie author is this day in age is that writing is less and less about writing what publishers or mass markets want. It’s more about finding your tribe, those readers that are hungry for the kinds of books you write.

I write two different kinds of books. I write contemporary YA with an LGBT bent and I write science fiction/fantasy books. Most publishers will tell you those two genres do not go together. I have been to enough science fiction conventions to know better. LGBT youths often find science fiction a safe place to explore themselves. Many science fiction fans are drawn to characters that stand outside the social norms, whether its sexuality, gender or some other issue.

So I am doing an experiment/promotion/exercise in finding my reading tribe. It works like this. I am going to give you an excerpt of a work in progress. One character, Devon, places two books into the streets Itty Bitty Library. If you can name both books referenced in the excerpt, do so in the comments.

The first person to correctly identify both books wins a chance to be a character in that book. Just give me a name, description and short personality bio. (p.s. It doesn’t have to be yours. You can give me a fictional name you go by in some context or a friend you want to honor.)

Excerpt:

Fourteen year old Ethan Hillcrest spied around the corner. He sighted down the block with his toy gun. “All clear,” he called back to his sisters, Rosie and Esther.

They came around the corner clutching their dolls and shooting him looks that said they didn’t see the need for a military escort at all. He ignored the look.

They went to the shade under the tree in their front yard and set down to play with their dolls. Ethan went and hid behind the trunk of the tree and continued his look out.

He scanned the far side of the street. He scanned the back of the Mondamin U. Inspecting the houses from right to left. Jack was on the corner. He was an ex cop. Occasionally he would sit on his porch and a couple times he told Ethan stories about the old days when he worked the beat.

Next to him was Justin and Danielle Smith. Justin was a cop, and one of the coolest adults Ethan had met, next to his dad. Danielle ran a daycare and Rosie and Esther loved it when they got to go play with the babies. Ethan didn’t care about no babies, but went along anyway.

To the left of the Smith’s was an older couple. Ethan couldn’t remember their names. Mom called out and greeted them whenever she saw them out on the street, which was rarely. She admonished the kids to respect their elders and Ethan did, he always spoke politely to them and laughed at the man’s joke, even though they weren’t funny.

This was the good side of the street. That was friendly territory.

Next door to them was the lesbian couple. Neither Mom or Dad liked them much. They muttered about sin and worried that their influence might lead Ethan or his sisters into sin. Ethan knew there were a couple girls at school who identified as lesbians. He wasn’t sure what the big deal was.

Kitty corner across from the lesbian’s was Lydia Scott, public enemy number one. She ran a yoga studio down on University. Yoga, his mom said, was an evil foreign cult. Ethan had been told that it was a form of exercise, in fact they had done it in P.E. At school. He didn’t tell his mom that. She had already threatened to pull him out of public school and homeschool him more than once. He didn’t want to leave his friends, so he kept his mouth shut.

He spied a redhead coming out of Lydia’s house. There was Mondamin’s newest public enemy.

Ethan remembered Devon vaguely. The adult’s had always said stuff, usually in a whisper, about the boy. But Ethan had kind of liked him. Not that they had much in common, being more than six years apart. What Ethan recalled was that Devon was nice to kids and took the time to include them in his games if possible. Few high school kids did that with elementary or junior high kids.

But this was too much. Devon was wearing a yellow tights, a red skirt and a yellow, women’s top.

“I don’t know how she can put up with this,” Mom had muttered at his father after she came home from the meeting last night. “The shame of it.”

“If I had ever worn women’s clothes,” his father had said, “my dad would have beat me within an inch of my life. Same goes for Ethan.”

Ethan had started, as he eavesdropped from his bedroom, but of course they didn’t know he was listening. Besides, he’d never had any inclination to try on women’s clothes either.

Ethan continued to spy on Devon, slowly pulling back to keep the tree between him and his subject. Devon had two books in his hands and he stopped in front of an oversized mailbox.

It was the itty bitty library they had built three years ago. It had been a school project for Devon. It was a miniature doll house with plexiglass walls on one side. Inside was one shelf with a dozen books or so. Neighbors were encouraged to borrow books for free, and to place new books in if they felt like it.

Mom hadn’t approved. There was no telling what sort of books someone might put in there. Nobody was monitoring the quality or morality of the selection. That might be okay for adults, but there were kids on the block.

It was one of the few times she found herself in the minority. The smith’s valued education, or so they said, and requested the library be built on their property even. Jack, Mr. Rick from the down the street, they all supported the project.

It was the other thing that Ethan liked about Devon. Mom wanted to check and monitor every piece of reading material that came in their house, make sure it taught proper Christian values. That was okay for Rosie and Esther, but he was fourteen, almost an adult. Surely he could decide what to read for himself.

Justin and Danielle read thrillers and when they were done, they went in the box. Jack had once left a survivalist manual in the box, that book was now hidden in the playhouse out back, one of Ethan’s prize possession.

Devon was all about science fiction and fantasy. Ethan had to credit Devon and the itty bitty library for most of the cultural knowledge he had. He would swipe books out of the itty bitty library and stash them in the playhouse. While all the other kids got to watch the latest movies or play the latest video games, Ethan would read the book.

Devon stopped at the itty bitty library and opened the door. He put the two books he was carrying inside and then stared at the shelves thoughtfully for a few minutes. He closed the door without taking anything and headed back towards his house.

Ethan pressed his back against the tree trunk. “Drop has been made, repeat, drop has been made,” he muttered into his shoulder, as though talking into a radio. He glanced at their front window. Mom was nowhere to be seen. He glanced down the street again. Devon was already on the porch, heading back inside.

Ethan stuck the toy gun down the front of his jeans and crossed the street. He opened the door of the itty bitty library and inspected the new books. He knew the contents well enough to not waste time on the others.

The first had a woman with a butterfly on the shoulder on the cover. He read enough of the back cover to realize it had to do with a boy who wanted to be a girl and he shoved it back in. He wiped his hands on his jeans quickly, fearing he might catch whatever it was that made Devon act the way he did.

The second book was a goldmine, Ethan could tell it at a glance. It had a woman on the cover too, but she was wearing goggles, a sure sign of something steampunk. No one at school even knew what steampunk was but Devon and, by osmosis, Ethan, were obsessed with it. Reading the back cover, this novel was not only steampunk, it had zombies.

A cop car pulled up and Ethan started. It’s a free library, that’s the point, he reminded himself. Besides it was only Justin coming home from work.

He turned the cover towards his chest and wrapped his arms around the book. He didn’t know if Justin talked to his parent’s about what they saw, but he didn’t want this title even getting back home.

“Guarding the neighborhood are we?” Justin joked with a nod towards Ethan’s waist.

Ethan looked down and the toy gun and blushed. He didn’t want to be caught playing. He was too old for that. But what else could he do? His mom ordered him to stay outside and watch his sisters. “Sir, yes, sir,” he said.

What’s your Werewolf Name?

Bear_Naked_FINAL

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My editor Janet Green at the Wordverve recently shared a link, What’s Your Werewolf Name? on Facebook. In turned into a mini promotion for Bear Naked.

And the winner is…Terry Morrow. Terry will be receiving a signed copy of Bear Naked and mention within the pages of Bear Naked 2: Wolf Camp. A big thanks to all who played. Join on us on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or here at rjeliason.com. We love these sort of informal promotions, so who knows when you might be given a chance to win something else.