How to Make Free Downloads into Sales

When the free promotion for The Prodigal Hour translated to decent sales, I was impressed. Enough that I started to consider free promotions more strategically with the desire to use them both better and more deliberately, and I think that doing so is increasing sales.

In fact, I’m sure of it. Sales have increased, bit by bit, every month. Not by a whole lot, yet, but considering where they started, they’re building steadily and seem on pace to continue to do so.

So how?

To be candid, I wish I knew a secret formula. Or even what worked. Or even what worked for me. I don’t. I know. Total fake out here.

I’ve heard a lot of people note that getting a mention on a big site like Kindle Nation Daily or Pixel of Ink or any of the other big movers and shakers increases their downloads by a crazy amount (like, say, 20,000 in two days), but I look at that number and . . . well, it doesn’t trouble me, but I wonder about it.

See, I wonder if the more important of the numbers, with regard to a free promotion, is the ranking a book achieves, rather than the number of times it is downloaded. 20,000 downloads in two days is amazing. I was overjoyed when 8,000 people downloaded The Prodigal Hour in four. I’m not thinking about yard sticks here; I’m thinking of what’s important with regard to a free promotion and a lot of downloads of books. There, one has to wonder what one hopes to achieve.

Usually: sales.

But always? I’m not sure. Right now, for example, I’m most focused on introducing Exciting Press to new readers. Does that mean hoping for mentions from the big sites already named? Could be, sure. And I reinvested some of the money I made from sales of The Prodigal Hour into some sponsorships. About which I’ll report back after they’ve occurred. Suffice it to say, I’m excited about the possibilities. Who knows? Maybe I would have had four times more downloads and sold four times as many books had I told Pixel of Ink a couple of weeks ahead of time what I was doing with The Prodigal Hour. I don’t know.

One other thing: when I started The Prodigal Hour‘s free promotion, I set it for five days with the intention of seeing how well it performed. I like to have as much data as I can and wanted to know what it could do, given the chance (heh. I just realized that’s a pun for anyone who’s read the novel). Given that chance, it did really well, and a lot of readers found it high atop the science fiction and action & adventure charts. But when it slipped from the first spot to the third or fourth, I thought I’d gotten enough data, and I ended the promotion. Now, usually, Amazon’s promotions begin at midnight on the first day and end at midnight on the last, but I think that, by ending it early, I managed to keep The Prodigal Hour high on the free list even though it had a price.

I’d wager that overall sales on Amazon decline overnight, and fewer people visit the site in the very late hours of evening and very early hours of morning, which makes me wonder if ending that free promotion early, and getting a priced The Prodigal Hour some attention on the free rankings, actually got a few sales.

They hold steady even still, with a minor trend toward “up.”

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Sorry there’s no easy trick here. My belief, however, continues to be that good writing finds an audience, and good stories find readers. Some do so more quickly than others, but I think the most important aspect of all is to consider what you have and find people who will enjoy it with the full and absolute understanding that not everyone will. I used to think that all I wanted was for everyone to read my books, but as I’ve been writing and publishing more, I’ve realized that not everyone who does will actually like them, and that’s okay. I’ve seen some writers have insta-success, and while I admit I think I envy their financial stability, probably, I’ve never seen one whose books I envied, and that’s a big distinction. Tell the stories you love, write the books you must, and put them out their with sincerity, and I truly believe the best thing you’ll be able to say about the success you find is that it will be yours.