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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: FREE

free, free books, F.E.C.A.L., new publishing, self-publishing, Amazon, Smashwords, being a real writer, Kristen Lamb, selling books, quality of books, how to write, digital publishing
New publishing houses? Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of WIDEHAUS.

FREE! For the love of all that is chocolate, free us from FREE! *takes soothing breath* I’ve been blogging for over ten years, a witness to the terrifying and extraordinary changes in publishing.

Initially, I was NO fan of self-publishing because entropy is alive and well…even with books. I knew once we opened Pandora’s Publishing, there would be no turning back.

Sometimes I really hate being right.

Amazon (and others) weaponized on-line shopping and launched us into an age of FREE, EASY, CHEAP, ACCESSIBLE and LEGAL.

Or, as I like to call it—Operation F.E.C.A.L.

Amazon wanted to implode traditional publishing. Their goal was to dominate on-line retail and raze the big-box model in order to make room for new brick-and-mortar Amazon stores (smaller and smart-stocked using algorithms). What better way to obliterate publishing than by handing out author participation trophies?

Yet, there have been plenty of consequences. Namely, LOTS of F.E.C.A.L. material out there.

A lot. *swats flies away*

It began innocently enough…

Authors Longed to Be FREE

free, free books, F.E.C.A.L., new publishing, self-publishing, Amazon, Smashwords, being a real writer, Kristen Lamb, selling books, quality of books, how to write, digital publishing

Before social media, Amazon, self-publishing, etc. authors had little to no control over the business of their business. Only two viable publishing options existed—traditional and vanity press.

So let’s make that ONE viable publishing option. Vanity press published anyone willing to pay to play author.

Vanity publishers had a singular standard writers needed to pass—a credit check. If the check cleared or the credit charge went through? Bada bing bada boom! Welcome to being ‘a published author.’

Alas, on the other end, traditional publishers were hardly a panacea. For brevity’s sake, I recommend my posts Real Writers Don’t Self Publish Part One and Part Two.

I want to make it CLEAR that I hold no allegiance to any one form of publishing. All paths have advantages and disadvantages.

The traditional publishing model pretty much tossed authors against a wall like spaghetti noodles. If you ‘stuck?’ Go you! You get another contract.

For more on how the publishing business ACTUALLY works, I’ve already explained, in detail, the ugly truth about traditional publishing and how to actually support the authors we love.

The Book Borg

Anyway, once the big-box bookstores arrived on scene like the Borg suddenly warping into sensor range, writers took the hardest hit. Publishers looooved the big-box concept because their business model relied on massive pre-orders to fund the machine (and still does).

****Take a gander at HOW many books it takes to FILL bookstores that had an average size of 26,000 feet (going as HIGH as 60,000). Can you say KA-CHING?

Publishers reveled in the boom. Meanwhile, many authors who’d previously made an excellent living during the Indie Bookstore era, had to dust off the resume.

Big-box stores bought books in volume. Yet, they ordered a TON of what books were most likely to SELL in volume. Thus, many mid-list authors who’d previously enjoyed a healthy income off twelve, twenty or even forty books now only made royalties off ONE (their most current novel).

Authors who were already household names did better than ever because of simple math and Business 101. What Borders or Barnes & Noble wasn’t going to carry every single Stephen King book ever written?

Nothing personal. Only business.

Problem was, virtually the entire author middle class stood shellshocked, ears ringing, arms loaded with a backlist of excellent books now rendered worthless.

Publishers—smitten with paper—didn’t even consider releasing these titles solely as e-books. Instead, they blithely handed seasoned authors their rights to these mothballed backlists.

Unchained

Amazon (and other self-publishing outlets like Smashwords) breathed life back into great books that HAD passed the gatekeepers. Many could legitimately claim New York Times Best Seller or USA Today Best Seller status.

Self-publishing provided authors who’d passed the gauntlets and invested years cultivating a vetted backlist a fresh way to breath new life into ‘old’ books.

In Christmas of 2009, when e-readers finally tipped into mainstream, readers were dying for titles to load on the new Kindle. Authors who’d defected made bank. These authors also improved self-publishing’s image problem.

Before 2009, most viewed self-publishing as a cheap version of vanity press. It certainly was not seen as a viable publishing path.

But, then writers got creative and soon success stories emerged. The dark horse authors like Hugh Howey and Wool, Andy Weir and The Martian, and Amanda Hocking emerged.

Yet, something ‘else’ emerged.

The Authorpreneur

free, free books, F.E.C.A.L., new publishing, self-publishing, Amazon, Smashwords, being a real writer, Kristen Lamb, selling books, quality of books, how to write, digital publishing

Before Amazon, Smashwords, social media, algorithms, etc. most writers became writers because they loved to WRITE. Sure, I think it’s fair to say most of us wanted to be successful and make money, but cash was not our primary motivation.

Then folks like John Locke changed the literary landscape. In my POV? This is where everything changed (and NOT for the better). Granted, kudos to Locke and his success. I even (tried) to read his How I Sold a Million E-Books in 5 Months, but there were not enough antacids in the world for me to finish.

See, Locke wasn’t writing because of any love for the written word. A book, to him, was a commodity like a cheap cheeseburger (his words). To his credit, he saw and capitalized on a rare alignment of the stars and won big.

Yet, he made bank only because he hit the ground hard with ebooks right as people were starting to use e-readers and there was a dearth of e-books on the market.

Since traditional publishers refused to lower prices, readers swarmed to FREE and .99 books faster than a cloud of Alabama gnats into a fresh glass of sweet tea.

With pretty much the same results.

Readers stuck, mired and drowning and trying to escape the very thing that lured them in. Readers swarmed in for the FREE, only to realize they were trapped in bad writing, terrible formatting, and did I mention bad writing?

Plenty of other authors followed suit with FREE books! And CHEAP books! These writers sold a lot of books and earned some impressive titles.

Yet, it took time for consumers (readers) to catch on that FREE was almost ALWAYS a giant waste of time.

Over the next few years, various other gimmicks caught on. Free books, cheap books, box sets, juking algorithms, and even authors who relied on flat out deception—brand confusion—to garner sales.

I seriously had an ‘authorpreneur’ who did this and gave me this ‘business advice.’ According to this business-savvy person, I could, say, take the ‘pen name’ of Jane Evonovech then make my covers resemble a real Janet Evanovich. Similar colors, fonts, styling, etc.

Because that isn’t shady AT ALL.

SMH.

Back then, Amazon was far from perfecting algorithms, so these Bait-and-Switch Rotex Authors DID sell a lot of books, make a ton of money, and were able to claim NTYBSA status…riding the tails of a legitimate author’s success.

Of course, when this person gave me said ‘advice,’ I parted with my own council. Save for a good attorney. You’ll need one. And I was right.

Also, I prefer to earn my sales and titles on my own merit, thanks.

BOOK BUSY-NESS

free, free books, F.E.C.A.L., new publishing, self-publishing, Amazon, Smashwords, being a real writer, Kristen Lamb, selling books, quality of books, how to write, digital publishing

Over the past few years, I’ve lost count of the fads and gimmicks. Amazon often tried launching new ways for readers to discover new authors AND for writers (Amazon) to make money.

The fundamental problem with Amazon has always been the same. They think like John Locke. To Amazon, a novel might as well be a selfie-stick, a tent, a push-up bra or a banana slicer.

There’s no inherent reverence for writing as a craft and an art. In the Amazon business model, consumers are the ‘gate-keepers’ for everything. Yet, when it comes to a book, Amazon can’t refund the readers’ TIME. Sure the book was free, but our time was not.

Consequences of FREE

free, free books, F.E.C.A.L, Amazon, writing, Kristen Lamb

Amazon doesn’t care about ONE author selling millions of books. Why? Easier to have half a million wanna-be-authors sell twenty books.

Then coax them to write more and more and more books that only sell twenty copies. All those eager creatives hitting PUBLISH like pulling a lever on a slot machine and praying for triple 7s.

***Meanwhile paying for cover art, interior design, and promotional material.

The big-box store supported one oligarchy at the expense of the mid-list and new authors. We broke FREE! Only to fuel a brand new oligarchy. A handful of people getting rich off the work of the many.

Sprinkle just enough success to keep the ‘many’ trying their luck.

The rest of us regular folks? Well, we’re left with the landfill of toxic waste hoping to find something worth our time. It’s why I only buy fiction off Audible. If a book sucks (and MANY do, even from Big Five publishers), I can return it with no problem. If I like a book, THEN I buy in paper.

For Love or Money?

F.E.C.A.L., new publishing, self-publishing, Amazon, Smashwords, being a real writer, Kristen Lamb, selling books, quality of books, how to write, digital publishing

I’ve been in this business long enough to notice the changes. Early on, writers were adamantly opposed to branding, social media, platform-building, etc. All that mattered was the quality of the book because they LOVED and RESPECTED the written word.

It’s why my merely mentioning on-line branding was enough to induce apoplexy.

The problem (as I saw it in 2008) was that eventually traditional publishers were going to require a brand, platform, social media presence as well as a superior book. They had to in order to keep up with (okay, stay alive in) the new F.E.C.A.L. business model.

Borders had imploded and Barnes & Noble was already bleeding. With fewer POS (Point of Sales) locations more people were shopping on-line.

I knew there was no getting out of building a brand and on-line platform, so might as well get started as soon as possible (without gimmicks and juking algorithms and spamming the crap out of everyone).

The whole reason I created the methods I did in Rise of the Machines was so writers had time to write, to learn and grow and improve. What I teach is EVERGREEN. Technology changes, people don’t.

Alas, the lure of easy money is hard to combat.

Too many ‘published authors’ know everything about promotion, yet not a damn thing about punctuation. I used to advise against a pen name, but now?

If I wrote that badly? I’d hide, too.

Where Do We Draw the Line?

free, free books, F.E.C.A.L., new publishing, self-publishing, Amazon, Smashwords, being a real writer, Kristen Lamb, selling books, quality of books, how to write, digital publishing

Cait’s post last time, Five Things Your Editor Hates About You summed up a lot of frustration. I’ve always loved blogging, teaching craft, helping writers grow from newbies to real artists.

Self-publishing and indie has had plenty of benefits (I.e. I could publish books on social media for writers, YAY!). But we all need to stop and do a gut check.

Where do we draw the line? What are we willing to do and not do? What is acceptable and what is UNacceptable?

These days, there are so many tricks and gimmicks that the ‘real writers’—those of us in this for the craft and the art—are sinking deeper and deeper into so much F.E.C.A.L. material we cannot outpace it…ever.

If we can’t outpace it, we must OUTSHINE it.

More ‘authors’ know more about how to buy promotional g-strings in bulk than they do POV, pacing, and structure. Operation F.E.C.A.L. has been such a massive success, we’re all eyeball deep in free crap and about to go under for good.

Question is, are we going to contribute more F.E.C.A.L. material? Or will we draw a line and give our craft the respect, time and dedication it deserves? Because a real author writes, reads, learns, grows, takes some lumps from REAL critique, and improves.

Freedom is not FREE.

Real writers learn to spell and punctuate or at least pay or barter with someone who can help them spell and punctuate. AUTHORS learn structure, take classes, and seek mentors.

Real authors push their abilities more than free pens. They don’t shovel out $#!& and call it a series.

Ten years ago, my best advice to writers was to learn the business of their business so they didn’t get fleeced. Now? My best advice is for writers to learn how to actually write.

Spend less time and money gold-plating turds and do the work. Leave the participation trophies to those who’ve ‘earned’ them. The rest of us have real author stuff to do.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Other than I am a super mean jerk? I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up. I don’t want any free books. My in-box is deluged with free.

This is even impacting the Big Five.

I PREORDERED a book five months before release because I loved the author’s first book so much. The second book was….

BEYOND bad.

Of course it ended up a NYT best-seller (probably from pre-sales from people like me who expected better). It was published by Simon & Schuster…and it was a pile of unreadable detritus.

Maybe it’s me.

Do you see traditional publishers seeming to cave on quality to keep pace? Are you tired of having to slog through crap? Is it hard to stick to your guns when so many writers are churning out books like a plastic dog-poo factory?

As for me? I don’t care. I’d love to be a gazillionaire but not if I have to churn out F.E.C.A.L. material.

I love hearing from you!

What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Upcoming Classes!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $55.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, June 22, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Remember Moonlighting? Dave and Maddie were the hottest thing ever…and then they kissed…and it was still kinda hot…and then they really got together and settled down to blissful domesticated bickering. And…we all stopped watching.

Because it was boring.

Remember the X-Files? The lucullan feast of smoldering restraint that was Mulder and Scully? Chris Carter refused to give the fans what they wanted with a kiss at the series end, and while fans gnashed their teeth, it was a kind of pro forma gnashing because we were still interested and could still dream about what might happen.

While the episode-based storytelling of television allows romance to be the B-plot (and only when it feels like it), novels are different. Whether we are writing squeaky clean romance or too-much-wasabi-level-hot erotica, we are always dealing with the same basic principle of THE TEASE.

And for all that romance gets a bad rap and is scorned as being ‘easy’ to write, sustaining the delicious, rippling tension and fizzing chemistry between characters is one of the hardest techniques to master. This class can help you (literally) keep the romance alive well past the 80,000-word mark and beyond!

Topics covered in this class include:

  • ‘So, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want’: recognizing what the reader wants, what the reader really wants but doesn’t know, and what the reader needs;
  • How to Flirt with the Reader: giving an inch but taking a mile when it comes to sweet/romantic/sexy moments;
  • Clean and Mean: putting the spark in sweet romance and fanning the flame without risking the brimstone;
  • Down and Dirty: putting the emotion in erotica so every encounter leaves the reader panting for more…for more than one reason;
  • The Speed Dating Trap: how to balance interest, interaction, and attraction without falling for the trap of insta-love (just add fate/pheromones/booze);
  • Making it Last: how to chart a course for romance and pace it so it lasts…all book long…
  • So much more!…

A free recording of the class is included in the purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER


Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Saturday, June 23, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. EST

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

There’s something dashingly defiant and alluring about a proper young lady who throws caution (and often her petticoats) to the wind and picks up a sword to fight for what she believes in.

Whether it’s Eowyn from Lord of the Rings or Elizabeth (Badass) Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we all love that moment when a woman rises up to prove she’s more than society ever expected her to be.

Yet the market today is flooded with fantasy and historical that carry more trope baggage than Marie Antoinette for a long weekend at the Petit Trianon (sheep not included).

In fantasy, there are girls raised in servitude who suddenly discover their magical powers and royal heritage and must (really quickly) learn to wield swords and spells in order to save the kingdom.

Historical often isn’t much better, taking naive nineteen year-olds and turning them into near-legendary brigands, highwaymen, and pirates within the space of a few months.

Lack of believability, lack of character depth and arc, and lack of world-building/historical knowledge are the three major pitfalls when creating Ye Olde Action Heroine.

Luckily, this class will give writers a map with all literary here-be-hippogriffs clearly marked. Whether your gal is besieged by dragons, in a castle under siege, or in a castle under siege by dragons, this class can help!

This class will cover:

  • En Garde! Choosing her weapons wisely;
  • Ye Olde Fight Club: getting real about time & training;
  • Why, How, and When: how to realistically get her on the path from baking to badassery;
  • Hard Knocks: how to use failure and lack of skill mastery to create compelling character arcs;
  • The Joan of Arc trap: how to avoid creating miracles and martyrs (unless you really mean it);
  • The Pirate Bride: defining femininity in fantasy and historical in order ‘rebel’ against it;
  • Consequences: what are the short- and long-term consequences of flouting convention?
  • World Building & Re-Building: getting fantasy and historical settings right for your characters;
  • And so much more…

A recording of this class is also included with purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER


Instructor: Kristen Lamb

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Saturday, June 23, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. EST

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Female characters have evolved from ‘damsel in distress’ to the ‘hardcore badass.’ Problem is, fictional females escaped one boring mold only to end up in another even MORE boring mold.

But with lipgloss AND karate!

Strong female characters fascinate audiences on the page and on the screen. From Atomic Blonde to Wonder Woman, Special Agent Scully to Dr. Laura Isles, women can exude power and danger in a variety of ways.

Sadly, the badass female has devolved into a tired trope with the depth of a puddle.

This class is to challenge the concept of the dangerous woman as protagonist and antagonist. Creating a powerful woman involves more than handing her weapons, a black belt, and a terminal case of RBF (Resting B$#@% Face).

    • Expanding ‘who’ the dangerous woman IS;
    • Still waters run DEEP;
    • Broadening backstory;
    • Motives matter;
    • The ‘Tomb Raider’ effect;
    • Combat, weapons, tactics;
    • Expanding her ‘arsenal’;
    • Generating authentic dramatic action/tension;
    • Making the dangerous dame ‘likable’;
    • AND MORE…

As an author, competitive shooter, and former combatives instructor, there are few characters I LOVE more than a kickass female action hero. Conversely, fewer things vex me more than the tired cookie-cutter female action hero trope. Women can be powerful in a myriad of ways, beyond hand-to-hand combat and shooting everyone in the FACE.

This said, while we’ll explore a wide variety of powerful women, if you long to write that female action hero, this class will (hopefully) make sure you do her justice.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER


Can’t seem to choose between pirate princesses and bulletproof Barbies? We don’t blame you…and, you don’t have to!

With the Dangerous Dames BUNDLE, get both classes and SAVE MONEY.

Purchased separately, each class is $45. Go for BOTH and get $90 of instruction for ONLY $75. You also get to spend a HUGE part of the day with ME (Kristen Lamb) and my partner in crime Cait Reynolds.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Date: Saturday, June 23, 2018

Price: $75.00 USD 

PRINCESS PRODIGY: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. EST

BULLETPROOF BARBIE: 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST

*Recordings of both classes included with purchase.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

 

 

Last week in What’s the Problem with FREE!? we talked about how giving away FREE! downloads of our books can actually do more harm than good. I also gave an example of the software company that refused to offer anything for FREE! back in the dot.com boom in the 90s when all the competition was handing out goodies left and right. When every other dot.com was giving away golf shirts, trips, goodies and software for FREE! this company stood firm and offered nothing…for nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, this company gave away FREE! stuff. They just didn’t give it away for free ;).

Free! is Best When It Isn’t Free

I read J.A. Konrath’s  and Bob Mayer’s blogs because both of them provide a lot of valuable insight for the writing professional. At first it might seem that Konrath and Mayer and I would disagree, that we would be at odds. Why? Because Konrath and Mayer will be the first to give us writers a digital kick in our digital @$$ to get off Twitter and Facebook to write more books. They make no bones about telling writers to get back to work and WRITE! Me, being a Social Media Expert Jedi, should be aghast.

What? How can you tell writers to get their tuchus off Twitter? Twitter is the best thing since Gummy Bears! And Facebook? What are you communists in league with SOPA to keep writers from sharing that video with the dancing squirrel?

Actually, I agree with Konrath and Mayer and it is one of the reasons WANA methods look VERY different from most social media approaches. See, I am not here to make you guys social media experts. I am here merely to help you use this tool called social media in the most time-effective way, because the best thing you can do to become a successful author or even a brand is to write more books. Write as many books as you can! Good books.

Write! Write like the wind! This is true for ALL authors—traditional, indie and self-pubbed. The more books we have for sale the greater our odds of success. And don’t think I am telling people to churn out crap just to have more books. There is nothing further from the truth. In fact, I dedicate every Monday on this blog to help y’all grow to be better and better writers. But few things can help our writing abilities like…um, writing.

Rocket science, right?

I just taught an on-line class about branding. I had all kinds of questions about Google Ads, Goodreads, Pinterest, blog tours, etc. to sell books and brand. My answer? Don’t become an expert at social media, become an expert at writing good books. Social media is a means not an end. The one critical ingredient to ALL author brands? BOOKS. GOOD BOOKS. The more, the better. Successful authors are not judged on the quality of their fan page. They are judged by the quality of their books.

Okay, you guys got the point. WRITE!

Yes, sometimes it might seem that I am beating a dead horse, but this is really critical. Konrath and Mayer had a distinctive advantage when they decided to self-publish. If, for no other reason? They had a lot of good books to offer. Why does this matter? Well, for today’s purposes, it has to do with FREE!

FREE! has More Power the More Titles We Have to Offer

FREE! is what can hook a long-term commitment. We can give a teaser to gain passion and loyalty. Yet, we can only do this if we have more than one title for sale. A potential customer (reader) sees that we have more than one book for sale. Ah, but one is FREE! This makes a reader a bit more excited since now…

FREE! is in Context of NOT-FREE!

Value is relative. If readers go to a site and an author has her one and only manuscript up to give-away, we might bite for the FREE! download. But, when we go to an author page and there are ten titles for sale, all for 4.99, yet one is FREE!, naturally we feel better about our decision to bite on the FREE!. Also, because this pricing was given in context, as humans, we will place more value on the download so we are more likely to read this one FIRST.

This is one of the reasons that authors like Konrath, Mayer and Eisler have done so well. Not only were they offering vetted titles, but they offered a lot of them, thus their product (the book) could be judged in context. John Locke, the successful self-published author, didn’t have vetted titles, but he did offer A LOT of them. Thus, those who liked Locke’s FREE! book now had a whole list of other his titles for sale.

FREE! is only valued when consumers believe it costs us (the giver) something.

Go back to the example I gave last week. I have a half a dozen magnet calendars I got for FREE! in my junk drawer. Does any of this make me want to do business with any of these real estate agents? No…because in my mind it really didn’t cost them anything. But what about the agent who sent me a $100 Lowes gift card? (Our agent sent us this after we closed on our house). That man will have my loyalty FOREVER, because he gave something that cost him, even though I know he made money off the sale of our house. He didn’t have to send $100 gift card. He could have sent us a calendar and a thank you note like my mom’s realtor did to her. But he didn’t and he now has a customer for LIFE.

This is why multiple books for sale help the impact of FREE! Since we have other titles for sale at a higher price, then it is perceived (by the consumer) that we are taking a loss when we offer something for FREE! This creates the reciprocity that is critical for driving sales. Reciprocity is very often negated when an author gives away her one and only manuscript for FREE!

FREE! is Most Effective When We Maintain Our Negotiating Power

If all we have is one book…then we give it away, the power has just completely shifted over to the reader. We are completely at the mercy that he or she will be compelled to talk about our book. Since we have no other titles for sale, we have nothing else to gain, other than maybe some ranking on Amazon. But even then, that only worked well when everyone wasn’t giving stuff away for FREE! We are in a position of weakness, of need. Not the best place to earn R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

FREE! is Most Powerful as a Part of a Quid Pro Quo

I’m not, per se against giving away books for FREE!, but I do think that there are smarter ways to go about doing this. As I stated earlier, FREE is best when it isn’t FREE!

In fact, FREE! can actually be a wonderful tool to get customers to spend MORE money…but the clincher is we have to have more than one book to offer.

Since it would be almost irresponsible for me NOT to mention Amazon at some point during this discussion, we will use them as an example. A while back Amazon.com started offering FREE! shipping on orders over a certain amount.

Thus, a person who purchased a book for $14.95 might pay an extra $3.95 for shipping. In total, the customer would be out less than $20. But, if they bought another book for a total of $29.95…they would get their shipping for FREE! Many people probably didn’t even want or need the second book, but the power of FREE! proved just too much to resist. And obviously this tactic works because Amazon still offers FREE! shipping when we consumers jump through various hoops (all of which are, of course, profitable for Amazon).

This is why it is critical to write more and more and more books, especially if you are self-published, because then you can use FREE! to its maximum advantage.

Bundled is Better

A good way to gain more sales traction? Bundling.  Buy two books for $4.99 and get a FREE! download of another short story, novel, whatever. This kind of FREE! makes readers very happy. Consumers are then lured to put out money to get the FREE! I happen to be very blessed to be part of Who Dares Wins Publishing and they do these types of deals regularly and it is a win-win for authors and readers.

FREE! Needs a Perceived Value

FREE! doesn’t have to be in the form of books or downloads. Heck, offer FREE! shipping on orders over a certain amount. Why reinvent the wheel? Copy what works, and, if Amazon has done this successfully, then so can we. Yet, again, this only works when we have more than one title for sale.

My Biggest Gripe About FREE!

I think writers, especially self-published writers, get overly fascinated with marketing, and the allure of FREE! only makes this worse. I see far too many writers uploading that ONE manuscript and then spending every spare waking moment, promoting that one book to the point of being viewed as spam. They tweet with every imaginable hashtag, “Come get my book for FREE! FREE NOW! A book for FREE!” ….and after the 40th time we get this tweet, we are willing to pay the writer to stop tweeting.

They remind me of gamblers chasing their losses. Because ONE DAY they had X number of downloads, they are back at the track trying to make that number appear again. If we run around handing our one and only manuscript for FREE! then what good does it gain us? I am sure there is some good that can come from it, but not the real game-changing benefit that I want all of you to enjoy.

If we study the success stories, especially in indie publishing, the winners always had multiple titles—J.A. Konrath, Bob Mayer, John Locke, Amanda Hocking, H.P. Mallory, etc. So Mayer and Konrath are correct—write, then write some more. Less tweeting and more writing.

When we have more than one book to sell, FREE! becomes a pricing strategy, not a desperate cry for attention.

Yes, I am the social media expert for writers, because I will be honest enough to tell you guys that the point to all this tweeting and blogging and FBing is to drive enough book sales that we can lose the day job and do what we love. We can’t do this with one book. The odds of this are about the same as getting mugged and hit by lightning on the same day. If we are spending too much time on social media, then we aren’t writing more books. Thus, social media is no longer a powerful advantage…and neither is FREE!

So what are your thoughts? Opinions? What are your experiences with FREE!? Any thoughts, suggestions? Recipes for killer chocolate martinis?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great book.

Winner’s Circle

Winner of last week’s 5-Page Critique is Tahlia Newland. Please send your 1250 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Ginger Club is the winner of last month’s 15 page critique. Please send your 3750 word Word document to kristen at kristen lamb dot org.

Congratulations!

Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether is a WONDERFUL resource for the best information in this industry.

Joe Konrath’s blog is another wonderful resource.

Colin Falconer had an AWESOME blog Historical or Fiction?

Friesen Press has a great post that I need to print and STUDY, Take the Busyness out of Business.

The real way to build a social network by Reid Hoffman over at CNN Money

The Big Reasons Indie Authors aren’t Taken Seriously at Huffington Post

Red Pen of Domm, Why Blog Hits Don’t Matter Though I don’t agree 100% we actually agree on a lot. We can have 10 zillion hits and they are all bots or random clicks. Quality trumps quantity and I agree.

FREE! is so powerful few of us can resist. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that FREE! is what gave the indie and self-publishing movement the traction to become the wide-sweeping change we see today. FREE! finally leveled the playing field between the traditional and the non-traditional industries. So if FREE! is so awesome, what’s the problem?

More about that in a moment.

A Brief History of Zero

The concept of Zero hasn’t always been around. Zero was invented by the Babylonians, then debated by the Greeks—How can something be nothing?—then finally paired up with the numeral one by the Indian scholar Pingala. Later it was adopted by the Romans. In fact, there is some debate that the explosion of the Roman Empire was due, in part to the adoption of Zero. Roman numerals could only count so high, so it limited expansion.

And boy are we glad that the ancient Romans were a greedy lot. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to give a cute member of the opposite sex our phone number if the numbering system hadn’t changed?

My number is VII I VIIII…Crap! Hold on. That was VII I IX….

Back to my point. Once there was a notion of Zero in context with a decimal system, Zero was here to stay. It swept the ancient world like a primordial Beanie Baby fad and stuck around until finally a little place called Silicon Valley took Zero to a whole nutha’ level.

Did you know that there are 10 types of people in the world? Those who understand binary and those who don’t.

*drum, roll snare*

Yes, I’ll be here all week. Drinks are half price until five.

So let’s just say that Zero, on its own, already had it made. What could be better? Introducing the emotional equivalent of Zero we all know as FREE!

FREEE!!!! FREEEEE!!! How we love FREEEEEE!!!!

I see FREE! being used all the time, and I know how powerful this tool can be. FREE! has changed publishing as we know it.

A Brief History of FREE! in the World of Publishing

Not too long ago, if an author went any route other than traditional, it created a problem. The authors had to sell books that had not passed the gatekeepers of publishing (kinda bad juju) at an equal or higher price than a book that had (really bad juju). No easy feat.

As an example…

I had a family member who wrote a romance novel. This family member, so eager to feel validated as a writer by being published, “published” through Publish America. So, we had basically a book that content-wise was probably the equivalent of a $4.95 Harlequin…only it cost I kid you NOT $34…before shipping.

I never pay $34 for any book…even for family. A $34 book better have gold pages and a foot massage and…nope, still won’t drop that kind of money on a book.

Yet, here is the thing, who other than family would pay that kind of money for ANY book?

I have no idea if my relative’s book was good or bad. I never bought it, so I never read it, but I can see how many self-published authors were in the same dilemma as my relative. It didn’t matter HOW good the content was because NO CONTENT was THAT good.

So, as you can see from my example, a lot of self-published authors faced a real conundrum. It was bad enough to be labeled as an inferior writer, but then to try and sell wares perceived as less valuable at as much as a 200% higher price? Frankly, the game was over before it began.

To add another level of difficulty, many of these writers needed to recoup their investment. They simply didn’t have the luxury of discounting their books, let alone giving anything away for FREE!…so they were almost doomed from the start. Pricing alone was enough to keep them from ever being viewed as real literary players.

What happened?

So the digital revolution hit and with the increase in e-readers, suddenly self-pubbed or indie pubbed writers could use a new tool—FREE! Since an author didn’t have to pay any more for one e-book than he did for a thousand books (unlike paper books), pricing was no longer a problem. And, since traditional publishing sure wasn’t giving books away for free (yet), self-pubbers and indie pubbers soon did what all good entrepreneurs do. They capitalized on a vacuum in the market.

Fast-forward to Christmas of 2009.

The sale of iPads, Kindles and Nooks EXPLODED and people wanted “stuff” to put on their new shiny e-readers, but they only had so much money on the gift card, and traditional publishers weren’t giving THAT much of a discount on the electronic copies of their books. Indie and self-pubbed authors swept in with a solution. Try my book…for FREE!.

FREE was here to stay.

The Advantage of FREE!

FREE is enticing. Few things get our hearts hammering like the glorious word…FREE!. People can try our books for FREE! and risk losing nothing. What is the downside? When we get stuff for FREE!, there IS no downside to the decision and, no downside makes us humans feel all warm and fluffy.

We dig warm and fluffy.

FREE! is awesome when lots of people download our books. It makes us feel special. But beyond that?

FREE! has no power in the publishing world unless there is an impetus for consumers read then talk about our book so more books can be sold. Great, we give away 50 FREE! copies of our new book. If the books sit there unread in a bunch of Nooks and Kindles hanging out with the games we will never play, then we really didn’t gain anything. In fact, we likely lost more than we gained. FREE! can be a powerful sales tool, but we need to make sure we are employing it wisely.

The Trouble with FREE!

First of all, FREE! isn’t special when everyone is doing it.

My social media approach is very different from a lot of other experts. I believe that traditional marketing is an almost total waste of time and does little to drive book sales. Here is WHY.

The same negative effect can also happen with pricing. Oh, sure those first people who got the bright idea to offer a book for $1.99 or $2.99 or .99 cents hit a home run.

But what about those thousands who have followed suit?

When we are the only guy handing out FREE! books, then sure people line up around the block. But when every other indie or self-published author is offering FREE! downloads? It dilutes the allure of FREE!.

When FREE! has Lost its Luster

This is where social media and platform now become important. I feel that, in the face of zillions of FREE! books, people will then prioritize whose books they will read at all or even first. They will default to who they know and who they LIKE. Then if they enjoy the book, the impetus to talk, blog or review the book will greatly increase if there is a personal compulsion to act. Translation?

We’d do it for a friend.

We prioritize by reputation for quality and by relationship. We line up to download FREE! stuff from J.A.Konrath or Bob Mayer or even FREE! short stories from Vicki Hinzi or James Rollins. We might even download from friends or even writers whose blogs we love and trust for excellent content like Chuck Wendig or Tawna Fenske.

In the face of all this FREE! relationship sales matter.

Either we have a prior relationship with the product—I.e. J.A. Konrath’s many best-selling titles OR we have a personal relationship and we want to support this writer as a person. That is one of the reasons that the WANA teams are so POWERFUL. We connect to each other as people, so we go out of our way to offer support. FREE! has power because others care about the author.

Yes, Free! Can Hurt Us

FREE! actually does have the power to hurt. In the behavioral economics book Predictably Irrational—The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, MIT Professor Dan Ariely states:

The critical issue arises when getting FREE! becomes a struggle between a FREE item and another item—a struggle for which the presence of FREE! makes us make a bad decision. (page 52)

Remember earlier, the attraction of FREE! is most powerful when there is no chance of us making a bad decision. But what about this scenario?

We just finished reading the latest and greatest novel on our new Kindle Fire and decide that we want to download a new book. Lured in by FREE! we download a handful of titles that are being offered FREE! for a limited time. We don’t even bother with sample pages because, hey! They are all FREE!

Ah, but then we sit down in our limited FREE time and open the first book. The formatting looks like it was done by a blind wombat. The second book? It was clear by page five this writer had never met spell check, and was, from all appearances, highly allergic to proper grammar. The third? So many POVs we needed Dramamine to keep up with perspectives. The fourth?

Screw it.

By this point we are just going to go pay regular price for a book we can enjoy reading. Sure, the new publishing paradigm is awesome, but the downside is that what used to meet a slush pile is now being passed on to readers to sift through. Readers may or may not want to put out all that effort for a bargain.

When FREE! Transforms

See, FREE! makes an interesting transition in the world of publishing. If I grab a handful of FREE! Hershey’s Kisses at the chiropractor’s office over the .50 cent Lindt Truffles for sale at Walgreens, I still have a pleasant experience. But, if I download enough FREE! books and too many of them are a bad, time-wasting experience? Then FREE! has lost its luster and with it its power.

FREE! can hit a critical threshold where it is just…annoying.

For instance, I have a childhood friend who grew up to become a realtor. She has never sold me a piece of property but this didn’t stop her from sending me a FREE! magnet calendar. Now, the guy that sold us our house ALSO sent us a FREE calendar…along with every real estate agent in the DFW metroplex.

You guys know I am exaggerating, but you get what I am talking about.

I have a drawer full of FREE! that just annoys me every time I look at it. The Scottish part of me is too frugal to just toss a perfectly good calendar/stress ball/magnet/koozi but I am up to my eyes in FREE! stuff that just clogs up my drawer and my life.

See, I bet the first real estate agent that sent people a FREE! koozi got some business, but now that ALL of them send out this FREE! crap? We just default to the agent we know from church or the one we met at Rotary. The FREE! no longer is a consideration, but rather is a source of consternation. We default to who we know and who we like.

Among Other Down-Sides, Free! Can Make Us Seem Desperate

Back in the 90s, at the height of the dot.com explosion, every tech company was eager to hand out free shirts, free koozies, free notebooks, FREE! FREE! FREE! Yet, in the face of all this FREE! stuff, the company my at-the-time-fiance worked for took a very different approach. They offered nothing simply for FREE! and a weird thing happened.

People’s interest piqued.

Potential customers wanted to know why, when all the competition had all this FREE! stuff, did this company not follow suit? By NOT being like everyone else, this company stood apart because they offered nothing FREE!

Oooh, they don’t give out FREE! stuff so their product must be more valuable.

What’s the saying? Why buy the cow if we get the milk for FREE!? There is something to that. FREE! can be especially harmful if all we have is one title for sale or if we are at the low end of the Amazon ranking. Whether it is true or not, the subtext is too often–Oooh, she couldn’t get anyone to drop $5 for her book, so now she’s giving it away?

I see a lot of writers get very excited because Two hundred people downloaded my book! Okay, but unless that two hundred translates into more than two hundred actual sales, then we are actually in the red. FREE! must serve a long-term advantage or we are just handing away work that cost us blood, sweat and tears.

Just because we are artists, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paid for our work. I am dedicated to helping all of you realize your dreams, and part of that is teaching you how to get paid for your work.

So is FREE! ever good? Sure! There is a way to use the Power of FREE! for maximum advantage…and we will talk about that next week.

What are your thoughts? Have you had a wonderful experience offering FREE! books? Want to offer tips? Pointers? Do you download free books? Have you found some real gems? What are some problems you see with FREE!?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Last Week’s Winner of 5-Page Critique is Kareen Yvette McCabe. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com. Congratulations.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

First, a FABU interview. James Rollins interviews Jon Land. Pop by and show some WANA support. This is a first for both of them.

Best-Seller Lists versus the Long Tail Really excellent post by NYTBSA Bob Mayer.

The Value of Publicity and The Myth of a Best-Seller by J.A.Konrath are both worth a look.

Kristin Nador has a wonderful series about blogging and this gal practices what she preaches. VERY useful series, so make sure you check it out.

My Life as a Three-Headed Chimera by Marcy Kennedy. WONDERFUL and POWERFUL blog about people-pleasing.

Have a hard time keeping up with all the blogs you love? The amazing Jenny Hansen has a post introducing us to Triberr. Yeah, I didn’t know what it was either but Jenny can help you out.

One of my favorite blogs is by the so-talented-and-also-pretty-I’d-stab-her-if-I-didn’t-like-her-so-much Tawna Fenske. Don’t Pet me I’m Writing is always a great place to perk up your day. This post on shampoo shopping? Too funny! And her fiction is truly wonderful. I HIGHLY recommend Making Waves.

Another author who makes me so jealous I could explode is truly talented and generous with her knowledge is Jody Hedlund. She has a wonderful post about How to Make Your Book Play out Like a Movie.

Jane Friedman has a fantastic post When You Need to Secure Permissions and while you are over at Jane’s MAKE SURE you check out Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether to keep up with the latest trends and changes and the best information available. Porter whittles down the web to the best, so this site is a HUGE time-saver.

Where there be dreams, there be dragons. Time to slay some beasties! Fabulous post by Ingrid Schaffenburg who is doing a wonderful series about dreams.

Do you call yourself a writer or an author? by Jami Gold.

Is Amazon guilty of predatory publishing? over at NPR