Monday 25 May 2020

To go Free or not to go Free?

I decided to write this post after talking to several newer self-published authors about whether or not free promotions for a first book are worth doing, and what results they should expect.  It should also help those who have written more than one stand-alone novel, or a series, or indeed anyone who has not tried a free promotion before.

What are free promotions for?  The answer may seem obvious, but here it is:
  1. To get your book on Kindles far and wide.
  2. To find new readers for your other books, or those soon to be written.
  3. To get more reviews and ratings.
  4. To boost the book's visibility on Amazon.

So do they work?  Points 1 and 4, above, will depend on several elements:
  • The extent of your social media presence.
  • The cover and the blurb.
  • The quality of reviews already present.
  • Whether or not you are willing to pay a promotional company for extra exposure - more about this later.

Points 2 and 3 will depend on:
  • The quality of the free book - more about this later, too.
  • Whether or not it is your sole publication and, if so, how soon your next book will be published. 

Let's take a look at all these points.

1.  The extent of your social media presence, and Amazon visibility.

How it used to be: I did my first free promo in April 2012, with just 1000 Twitter followers.  I put my first two books on free, and got around 33K downloads.  All I did was tweet about them, and get them posted on sites that featured free books at no cost, none of which exist any more.  I will not detail the effect this had when the book went back to 'paid', but it was pretty amazing.


A major factor in determining how well your book sells is how often Amazon's computers show it to potential readers, e.g., in recommendations, in the 'also bought' and 'also viewed', etc.  If 20K people have downloaded your book over one weekend, Amazon's AI thinks, 'People like this. I'll show it to everyone, and it will make money for the Mighty Zon.'.

That was 8 years ago.  Times have changed - a lot!

These days, everyone has Kindles jam-packed with books they will never read.  There are hundreds of thousands of freebies on Amazon every day of the week.  Many readers will have downloaded free books that shouldn't have been published in the first place, and assume 'free' means 'crap'.  Now, you have to sell a free book in the same way you would if it wasn't free, using hooks, quotes and taglines that will make people think, hmm, that sounds interesting.  If you have only 1000 followers on Twitter, it is likely that, because of the site's algorithms, only a few hundred, if that, will see your tweets.  Out of those, not all will be takers; probably under 100 of them.

From my experience and observation, you need to get at least 2K downloads to make any difference to the book's visibility on Amazon.  You can get more by using Facebook (I am not on the site any more, but I believe there are lots of groups and pages that publicise free books), by retweeting others on Twitter so that they will retweet you back, and by paying a promotional site (yes, I shall get to that soon!).

Having said this, every time someone downloads your book, they are a potential new reader - and going free can introduce you to readers who have not noticed you before.  I find that my other books sell better during a free promotion, too; maybe they download the free one, read it, like it and buy another, or have a browse around all your other books and buy one that seems more up their street.

2.  The Cover and the Blurb

These are of varying importance, depending on the individual.  If a book's subject matter is something I want to read about, and the blurb draws me in, I don't give a stuff about the cover; it's the genre and blurb that 'speaks' to me.  Others are attracted mainly by the cover.  It makes sense, though, to have the best cover you can afford or make, and to make sure the blurb is sharp, to the point, enticing and error-free.  You could always try running it past some honest friends to see how it might be improved.

3.  The Quality of the Reviews Already Present

Obviously, it makes sense to have as many reviews on the book as possible before doing a special promotion.  Most new writers start off with reviews from friends, family and online writer friends, who usually make the mistake of saying it's the best book they've ever read.  If your only reviews are one or two liners of this type, especially if they have never reviewed any other books, it will scream 'reviews from family and friends'.  It helps if you have a few from regular reviewers and book bloggers, too.  You can read more about getting reviews by looking in the 'Reviews' section of this list of articles: HERE

4. Paying for promotion

'Is it crazy to pay for promotion for a book that's free?'  No, it's not.  On average once a month, I do a free promotion for one of my books using Freebooksy.  To book it, you choose one day during your promotion, pay your £60 or $75 or whatever (those figures are approximate), and your book will feature on their daily email to 1000s of subscribers. These will be mostly in countries that buy from, such as the US.  The boost this gives will get it high in the book's genre charts, so that on the days that are left, the downloads will carry on coming.  This is why it's best to choose the first or second day of your promotion.  Have a look on the Freebooksy site before booking it on Amazon KDP, as some days will be sold out.

I have also had reasonable results with The eReaderCafe , EReaderIQ and less so with Book Doggy but this is reflected in the price (it's only about £12).  

In my experience, a Freebooksy promotion will obtain 2K - 5K downloads, though some genres may do better; others, worse.  But this is enough to give a sagging book a lift, get future sales - especially if your book is the first in a series - and obtain new reviews and ratings.  Maybe even more importantly, doing Freebooksy promos makes a BIG difference to my Kindle Unlimited pages read - and not just for the book that is being promoted, but for all of them.  I can only assume that the increased visibility brings my other books to the attention of readers, too.  

nb:  September 14: To illustrate this, here is my KU pages read report on Amazon, from September 1st to 13th, 2020.  I did a Freebooksy promotion for one of my books starting on September 6th, with the Freebooksy promo on September 7th.


I have also got lots of new ratings and the odd new review since this promotion and another in mid-August - it's good that readers can just rate, now, instead of having to write a review.  The book I made free in August has gained over 20 new ratings on Amazon, and a few reviews in the last few weeks.

Now: BookBub.  You've probably heard of it.  It's fabulous, and has not 1000s but 1,000,000s of subscribers.  It costs about £540 to promote a free book for one day (it works in the same way as all the others), but it's worth it.  You have to submit the book for their consideration, and they only take around 10% of those submitted, but you can keep trying; I know of one writer who submitted the same book about 16 times before finally getting accepted.  I've been accepted twice so far, and got 37K downloads the first time, and 45K the second.  For each, I got over 300 new reviews or ratings across all sites (all Amazons, Bookbub itself, Goodreads) for each book (it's probably more by now), and the boost this gave me in Amazon visibility meant that I made the money back several times over in the two or three months that followed, in sales for the book that had been on promotion, and others.

For more details of any of these promotional sites, take a look via the links provided.  Do be aware, though that the wider your readership, the more likely you are to get some bad reviews.  Most of the ones I got for The Devil You Know were extremely positive, but I got a few humdingers for The House of York!  Unless you're getting a great deal of bad reviews, in which case you need to take a long, hard look at the book itself, it's just something you must learn to accept.  And you can learn from them, sometimes.


5.  The Quality of the Free Book

The ideal world: 1000s will download the free book, read it immediately, think, 'Wow!  I need more!', then leap to Amazon and to buy more of your work.  Of course, this rarely happens.

Think about your own reading habits.  If a book really grips you, you'll buy the next in the series or another novel by that author.  If it's just 'quite good' but didn't really grip you, or it's okay but still needs some work, you probably won't. Similarly, if you can see that it's good but it's just not your thing - no book appeals to everyone.

I have a four book series, and put the first one, Tipping Point, on free a couple of times a year. I get around an 80% 'read-through' to Book #2, Lindisfarne, and 70% for #3, UK2, and 60% for #4, Legacy.  But the people who do read all four often go on to buy others; the associated short stories, another book set in the same world (Blackthorn), The Devil You Know, and my other 3 book series. These are the ones who like my writing style—the more downloads you get, the more likely you are to find them.

If your free book is not soundly edited and proofread, with great pacing, characters that the readers care about, realistic dialogue and a well-constructed plot without any dodgy bits, you will get less read-throughs, and less reviews.  I say this from observation and, sadly, experience - my first two books needed better editing and proofreading.  I thought the fantastic free promo would get me started.  It didn't.  That came several books later, when I was more experienced in every aspect of novel-writing.  I did get some great reviews, and found readers who stuck with me, but I got some bad ones, too, and made errors with the subject matter of the third and fourth books - basically, the first few years were a learning experience!

Putting one book on free is no guarantee of future sales.  However!  A lack of them might not necessarily mean your book is a mess.  It might be simply because of my theory, which I will now explain:

'Last month, my book got 1000 free downloads 
- so where are all the new reviews and read-through sales?'

The following amounts are general estimates, so please don't take me to task about it; it's not meant to be actual figures, but to illustrate why you should not expect your free promotion to propel you into Amazon best-selling glory.

Your book is downloaded 1000 times.  What happens next?
  • 500 people will never read it, or even see it again.  It will get lost in the thousands of other free books on their Kindles.
  • 50 may discover it in 6 months' time.  Or a year, or two years.  I was still getting the odd review for You Wish (that first book) two or three years after I put it on free.
  • 100 will start it, not like it, and abandon after a chapter or two.
  • 50 will start it, think it's okay, but not be that bothered about it; they may abandon simply when they see another book that excites them more.
  • 100 will finish it, and think it was good, but won't be gagging to read any more.
  • 100 will like it, and maybe read more. Some time.  Not necessarily immediately.
  • Out of all the above, you may get the odd review or rating, though they probably won't be 5*.  There are now just 100 readers left.
  • 50 will like it alot, and get another one, though this may be on Kindle Unlimited, so you won't see an immediate sale.  
  • 50 will like it alot, even adore it; these could become 'your readers'.  But half of them may not get round to buying another book just because... well, just because.  How many times have you said, 'Oh yes, I really liked his first book.  I'll get round to reading the sequel some time.'?
  • Of those 50, 10 will tell other people about you, in person or on social media. They may tell you, too, how much they liked the book.
  • The 100 people in the previous three points are your possible 4/5* reviewers.  However, they may mean to, but never get round to it; 99% of readers don't review.  Also, do not forget that these magic people might not actually read the book for a few months. 
Remember: a free download is not the same as a sale.
Your book's free ranking on Amazon has no bearing on its paid ranking

6.  Is It Your Only Book?

I would not advise paying for promotion for a lone publication, because however much a reader loves it, he or she will have nowhere else to go once it's read.  On the other hand, you may get some new reviews; generally, though, the only time I would advise paying is when the next book is imminent - and by that I mean will be published within the next couple of weeks.   If so, it is a good idea to write something to that effect either on the blurb or in the author's note at the back.  Or leave the option to sign up for a newsletter if you do one, or follow you on social media.

If the book is #1 of a continuing story, it's best to wait until the series is complete before spending out, or have at least three books ready to download. 
Otherwise, people tend to forget.  There are 1000s of books published every week - it is easy to forget about an author, even if you really liked them.

7.  What else can you do?

When promoting your free book on Twitter, do a good new pinned tweet every day of the promotion, giving an indication of the book's genre, and a line or two to say what it's about, or quotes from great reviews (from book bloggers, not your best mate or your mum).  Vary the tweets.  Use pictures.  RT others alot, tweet it a few times during the day. You can also DM Twitter friends to ask them to help you promote it.

But please Don't:
  • Go overboard with the tweets; it'll annoy your followers (yep, done it myself!).
  • Try to entice the reading public by tweeting how many downloads it's already had, unless it's at #1 in a main genre chart, or has had something like 10K, which is a pull in itself.  On the whole, though, amounts of downloads don't mean much to prospective readers.
  • Say things like 'Let's get #1 of The Dragon Chronicles into the Top 100 #Free chart!'.  Some people will want to help, but, basically, you're the only one who cares.
  • Ask for reviews in the tweets: 'Please download, read and review'.  That's a huge no-no.
  • Call yourself a 'best-selling author' if you're not.  Getting to the top of an obscure genre chart for one day does not make you a best-selling author.  

If, having read this, you've decided against going free, you can always try a 99p/c promotion, for a week.  If it is published on Amazon KDP, you can do a Kindle Countdown promotion, which means that you can put the book on for as low as 99p/c and still get the 70% royalty.  The price can be increased gradually during the week, or you can just leave it at 99 for the whole week; I do.  Again, it is best to do this once the book has got some decent reviews, and has an enticing blurb, etc, etc.

This might interest you - in order to test how 'visible' Amazon makes my books, I have recently tried putting a book on free and doing nothing, no promotion, not even a tweet.  I chose older books that I don't promote anyway.  Both of them got around 200 downloads - which says to me that this Amazon visibility thing works!

I hope this helps, and good luck!

Thursday 21 May 2020

Lately I've Been Watching

More mini TV and film recommendations, with trailers to help you make up your mind!  I've made a note of which site I saw them (mostly Amazon Prime and Netflix).

If you would like to see more, please click here: Lately I've Been Watching.  There are many of these posts; if you want to see them all, click on 'older posts' when you get to the bottom. 

Film: Greed (Amazon)

5 stars plus ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Stars Steve Coogan as Richard McCreadie, who is based on Phillip Green, the ruthless billionaire business man who owns Topshop, Evans, Burtons, Miss Selfridge and others.  Also starts David Mitchell as his autobiographer, and Isla Sinclair as his ex-wife.  Although it does not mirror Green's life exactly, there are many aspects of it that I am sure do.  It's excellent.  Don't miss it.


Series: Cardinal (Amazon Prime, Hulu, BBC4)

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Standard sort of cop/murder/personal dilemmas series, set mostly in the town of Algonquin Bay in Quebec, but it's particularly good.  Scenery is fabulous; there are four seasons, each one a gripping story told in six episodes.  The first and fourth take place in a snow-covered winter, and have a Scandi-noir feel to them.  Highly recommended if you like these type of things; by far the best I've seen for a long time. A real shame that S4 is the final one, though some parts of it did come to a natural end.

Series: Onisciente (Omniscient): Season 1 (Netflix)

5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Brazilian, dubbed into English (well done).  In a future time, the people live in the cities, where they are monitored 24/7 by drones the sizes of flies, Carla must go outside the city walls to find out who murdered her father, and why.  It's clever, gripping, and terrifying, because this sort of surveillance appears to be what we are heading towards.  Loved it - watch it!

Film: The Quarry (Amazon on Demand)

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Slow-moving film starring Michael Shannon as a cop in a rundown small town.  Along comes the new preacher, played by Shea Whigham - except he isn't really a preacher at all.  It's dark and atmospheric, though not particularly memorable, but I'll watch Michael Shannon in anything, and Shea Whigham is fairly fab, too.  I think the actors and the atmosphere made it, as the plot isn't that stunning.  I'd give it a definite tick and a thumbs up, though.

Series: Dollhouse (Amazon)

4.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was made in 2009, and cancelled after 2 seasons.  It's scifi, about a company that kidnaps young men and women and re-programmes their brains to make them function as 'actives' or 'dolls', who will perform whatever activity the paying customer wants them to.  The star of the show is a 'doll' called Echo, whose 'real' mind begins to fuse with her re-programmed one, as she discovers what is happening.  I love stuff like this; it's a bit daft in places but highly enjoyable.  Sorry about the quality of the trailer, but it was the only one I could find.

TWD addicts will spot Enver Gjokaj as one of the main dolls - he played Pete Dolgen in Season 4.

Series: After Life: Season 2 (Netflix)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I know most people think this is brilliant, and Ricky Gervais plays the grieving widower who can't get on with his life so well, but I only like it, I don't love it.  I find it a little too depressing, because of the narrow lives the characters lead; it's a bit too 'real' for me.  Good, but I don't like it quite as much as the first season.  I think I'm waiting for more to actually happen.  Also, I winced at his use of the word 'cunt' - not because I mind hearing it, but because I felt as though it was intended to shock.

Series:  Westworld: Seasons 1, 2 & 3 (Amazon)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I tried this once and wasn't that keen, then watched it all when Season 3 came out.  If you haven't seen it, it's set in the future, in a vast theme park where rich people can immerse themselves in a real life virtual reality (if that makes sense) with cyborgs who believe themselves to be real people.  Gradually, though, some of them begin to find out the truth, and rise up against the humans.  I liked the first season, especially the gradual unfolding of the life of William, played in his younger years by Jimmy Simpson, who I love, and later by Ed Harris.  The second season I found a little too drawn out and was pleased when it was over.

I thought Season 3 was possibly the best of all, certainly as good as the beginning, though I know that it hasn't been received so well by the show's biggest fans. Time has moved on, Westworld is finished, and some of the cyborgs are ready for a fight.  This season stars Aaron Paul, a favourite of mine, as a human who becomes involved with the main cyborg, Dolores, played by Evan Rachel Wood.  Also stars Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins and Luke Hemsworth (the not so good looking one!).

Dark Comedy Series: Dead To Me: Seasons 1 & 2 (Netflix)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Christina Applegate (Married With Children) stars as Jen, a woman whose husband has been killed in a hit and run.  She bonds with Judy (Linda Cardellini) at a grief therapy group - but Judy is not who she claims to be.  Lots of near misses with the police and people getting themselves killed.

I liked Jen all the way through this, and it's fast-moving, amusing, entertaining, etc, but my enjoyment was marred by the character of Judy, who is possibly the most irritating character I've ever seen on television.  Cringe-making, soppy, unreliable, a bit of a 'madcap'; I think she is meant to be endearingly kooky but I had an allergic reaction to her.  I'd still recommend, though - it's a nice 'easy watch'.

Film: Capone (VOD)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tom Hardy stars as the infamous gangster in this drama about his final year, at his mansion in Florida, when his dementia is making life pretty damn awful for everyone around him.  Linda Cardellini plays his wife (and is not irritating at all - see above!).  It's quite gruesome and depressing; Hardy is excellent and it's good, but I would have liked it more if there had been flashbacks of his glory days rather than his hallucinations... I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped.

Series: Run (HBO)

4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

College sweethearts Ruby and Billy make a pact that, in the future, however their lives pan out, if one of them texts 'Run' to the other, and the other replies with the same word, they will drop everything and meet up in Grand Central Terminal to travel across American together.  On the morning when Ruby receives the text from Billy, she is in a supermarket car park.  Her marriage is not particularly happy; Billy is a motivational speaker whose career has just taken a disastrous nosedive.

No, all does not go smoothly, especially when Billy's super-possessive agent tracks him down.  It's amusing and I liked it.  Merrit Weaver (Denise in The Walking Dead) is great as Ruby, though Domhnall Gleeson is fairly irritating as Billy; a clichΓ©d feckless Irishman who I think the viewer is meant to find quirkily charming.  

Film: Inheritance (Amazon)

3.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thriller - Lily Collins plays a successful barrister who receives a strange legacy from her father.  I can't say much more than that as it would give the plot away.  Simon Pegg, who I usually can't stand, is excellent as the ... person I can't describe because that would give the plot away, too.  It's worth watching, for sure, but I took a half star off for the weak ending.  Would have been okay 20 years ago, but plots are much more intricate these days, and I was waiting for the final twist or two that never came.

Series: Sequestered (Crackle)

3.5 stars ⭐⭐⭐

About a jury staying in a hotel while they try to reach a unanimous verdict on a man accused of murder.  Much corruption occurs, as the members sway this and that.  12 episodes, each half an hour.  It's good, not memorable.  Stars Jesse Bradford and Summer Glau.

Series: Liar: Season 2 (ITV)

3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Set in an idyllic south of England (as are so many of these series) in a coastal area, starring Ioan Gruffudd as a murderous doctor, and Joanne Froggatt as one of his intended victims.  I liked the first season well enough, but I felt it should have stopped there; the second is after Gruffudd has been killed, with the police trying to solve the murder.  It's okay, but some of the plot felt a bit contrived.  I find that too many of these ITV and BBC series feel a little pale after watching the much more sophisticated US ones.  However, the whole series has had most positive reviews, so it's probably just me.

Wednesday 20 May 2020


Sometimes you've got to use your fists to make your point.  Or a golf club, the butt of a gun... an egg
... or a saucepan ...

'You put your hands on your wife, your little girl or anyone else 
in this camp one more time, I will not stop next time.  Do you hear me?


(and Ed deserved every punch after this!)

Not exactly a 'hit' but I had to include this one....

'Give me your hat'
'Why would you waste an egg like that?'
'I think it was rotten'

'Merle, shut up!'
'Shut up yourself! Bunch of pussies you roll—'


'Man, I ain't going nowhere until I find out who did this'

'I should have taken some golf lessons before the—'

'When people we love kick—well, they disappear. 
Doesn't mean you've gotta go out that way too'

'She's alive and I'm gonna find her'

'You come aross any of these people, you kill them.  Don't hesitate' 

'I lied.  I'm not a scientist'

'The next picture, you'll see inside the gates.  
Our community was first construc—'

'Why did you let these people in?'
'Because we actually know what we're doing.'

'That how it works with you?  You leave people behind to die?'
'We have a system.  Tell him, Francine.  We have a—'

'Who the hell do you think you are?'
'Someone who's trying not to kill you' 

'If you don't fight, you die.  I'm not gonna stand by—'

'You going to shoot me over a truck?'
'There's a lot of food on that truck'

S7x07 Sing Me A Song 
'I am about fifty per cent more into you now' 

S7x10 New Best Friends 
'She gets hurt, she dies, if she catches a fever, if she gets taken out
by a walker ... if she gets struck by lightning, anything -
anything happens to her, I'll kill you'

S8x05 The Big Scary U
Gabriel: 'You are forgiven'

And the fight none of us wanted to see...

S8x05 The Big Scary U 
'Choke hold's illegal, asshole'

Rick remembered what Daryl said, at their first meeting 
in S1x03 Tell it to the Frogs

S8x16 Wrath 
'That's for the puke'
'Fair play'

 S9x02 The Bridge
'We'll deal with him, but not like this'
'There's only one way to deal with these assholes' 

S10x10 Stalker

Rosita lands a punch

'Holding things back is the same as lying'

To end with, the best fight of all πŸ˜€
S9x16 The Storm

Until next time....

Give me your hat. You said talk to you, I'm talking to you. Give me your hat. Why would you waste an egg like that? I think it was rotten.

Read more at:
You put your hands on your wife, your little girl or anybody else in this camp one more time, I will not stop next time. Do you hear me? Do you hear me?!

Read more at:
You put your hands on your wife, your little girl or anybody else in this camp one more time, I will not stop next time. Do you hear me? Do you hear me?!

Read more at:
You put your hands on your wife, your little girl or anybody else in this camp one more time, I will not stop next time. Do you hear me? Do you hear me?!

Read more at:
You put your hands on your wife, your little girl or anybody else in this camp one more time, I will not stop next time. Do you hear me? Do you hear me?!

Read more at: