Contemplating Free. Is It Worth It?

This morning saw the announcement of the 5th book in my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos. As has become my custom, I run a 48 hour free offer at Smashwords, as a promotional. As I sit to write this, 8 hours after that blog post published, I’ve had 28 hits on that post, 16 free downloads, 2 commenters, one review, and one promise of a review. It was similar when I announced Book 4 of the series, How To Mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square: lots of folks taking up the offer but few comments and no reviews. I’m trying to decide how to feel about that.

This is not a new dilemma for eBook authors. On the one hand, a free book is a great promotional tool. Most eBooks are self-published, which means the authors are usually unknown. A free eBook gives readers a chance to sample an unknown’s work. If they like it they will likely buy more. Free works well for a series too. Offer the first in the series for free, and, if readers like it, they hopefully will buy the rest. I’ve taken a slightly different approach of offering each new volume free for a limited time.

Another advantage to eBooks is the ability to advertise yourself by linking to your other works within the eBook. Plus, they can be updated, which means I can add each new volume to a series listing in each book. I link to my 5 Acres & A Dream The Book as well.

So why would I ask if it’s worth it? It’s certainly worth it to the reader who downloads free copies of all my books. I can’t help but wonder, however, if it is helping me reach my own reason for doing so, i.e. to promote my books. With each announcement I ask for reviews, but as other authors who have gone before can tell you, actual reviews are few and far between for freely offered books.

Here’s the rub. There is something in human nature that desires to be acknowledged and appreciated for generosity and effort. As old fashioned as it seems, it is still good manners to say thank you for a gift received or a service rendered. As a writer, I can’t help but wonder if my work simply isn’t worth a review. If it’s that useless or that bad, then it doesn’t make sense to do it. It’s a waste of my time and my readers’. This crosses my mind because I can’t help but think that a quick review as a thank-you isn’t too much to ask.

True confession – whether intended or not (likely not) I feel used. I don’t think anyone can call me greedy: at 99¢ each, I only make about 30¢ per sale, so this is hardly a get-rich scheme; especially considering the hours and hours it takes to write and produce each book. I price them low because I love encouraging others. On the other hand, writing is my way of being able to stay at home and work on the homestead. What I earn is invested in our homestead. These two things are not opposites, they are not mutually exclusive. Rather, it is the “killing of two birds with one stone,” the working to benefit both readers and author.

So after all that, what am I going to do? Well, I’ll think about it some more and see if changing tactics is in order.

Two More eBooks

I’ve added two more titles to my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos.

2newHow To Make An Herbal Salve: an introduction to salves, creams, ointments, & more

How To mix Feed Rations With The Pearson Square: grains, protein, calcium, phosphorous, balance, & more

I finished my “Goat Tales” section for Critter Tales before Thanksgiving and decided to take a break while it’s off to my editor. Finishing these two eBooks has been my project over the holidays. I announced one on my homestead blog but have yet to announce the other, because I first need to update the other eBooks in the series. The beauty of eBooks is that they can be edited and updated after they’ve been published. That means I can correct mistakes, clarify sections, tweak formatting, even answer questions folks have asked after they’ve read the books.

The other thing I can do is keep a link list for the entire series in each eBook, plus my print books (well, only one print book so far, two one of these days). All the links go to my Kikobian Books website, which I update as well. In that sense, eBooks are a good tool for advertising and promoting one’s own work.

Once I get all the updating done it’s back the the Critter Tales grindstone. I must decide which critter is next. Cat Tales? Pig Tales? Llama Tales? I’ll let you know once I get started on it.

The Declining Usefulness of Social Media for Indie Authors

Once upon a time it was called Social Networking. The concept was beautifully simple – it was a way to keep in touch with friends and family as a group rather than individually. Then businesses caught on to it’s usefulness as free advertising, and it became what I called Social Marketing. It is now known as Social Media, which I suppose is meant to be encompassing. Unfortunately, the balance is definitely tilted in favor of those who have the most money to spend to get their word out.

I was never a big facebook fan. I signed up to be able to see all the latest photos of my granddaughter. That was all I was interested in. I set my privacy settings to private (which is no longer possible BTW) but kept getting “friend” requests. Turned out FB reset the settings every time they updated something, which was frequently.

Now I have facebook pages for my books, but I’ve really been questioning whether or not they are worth it. Certainly some followers prefer FB, but it’s usefulness to promote my books is questionable. Theoretically all my updates should go out to all my followers, whose feedback should go out to all their followers, which would really spread the word. When FB began to sell shares, that changed. Now they have investors to please, so true promotion of anything costs money. If I want my updates out there, I have to “boost” i.e. pay for them. That also means that in my own news feed, the things that pop up first and most frequently are paid-for posts. And I’m learning that these are misleading. Several times I’ve clicked a link for an interesting article, only to be taken to a website for which I have to click and click and click and then am finally given the true source for the article. To me, that’s deceptive.

Another problem with facebook is that there is no way to separate business and personal information. This is a continual complaint from those with business pages, because they see the melding of the two as unprofessional. And it is. Even common sense tells us that potential customers are not going to be interested in two dozen baby photos from 2nd cousin Jane by her third husband. But FB does not care. Keeping the two inseparable simply makes data mining easier for them and those to whom they sell (or give) information.

Twitter is another one. It’s now possible to buy something like 3000 followers for a mere $29.95. Buy followers? Unless one is glued to their computer or smart phone, who can keep up with all the tweets anyway?

Followers on all social media venues is another fiasco. It’s so easy to get caught up in the “more and more” follower frenzy, that it becomes ridiculous. In the early days I used to try to follow back out of courtesy, only to find I was soon dropped from the list of those they followed. In other words, some folks simple use it as a way to promote themselves. As a blogger, I know that lots of followers can be more of a liability than a help. I am continually targeted by individuals and companies who want to use my blog to promote themselves and their product (for free, of course because it’s such an honor to have them). Also it targets me for more spam, especially the nasty and vulgar kind.

Now that Pintrest has a marketing plan for businesses, I expect them to follow the same dodo.

For the Indie author, I suppose these can be useful if one has money to burn on promoting their book(s). Just be forewarned that it is easily possible to get so deep in the red as to never see actual earnings from your masterpiece. It’s tough because it’s hard enough to self-promote, and I’m not sure there are any easy answers for it. Word of mouth is always one of the best ways, it’s just getting folks to review it to get that help. (And then there are the trolls, but that’s another story.)

I confess I am amazed at how much time folks have to spend on social media. Even homesteaders who certainly have enough to do without it. I know that’s the case for me. I have more to do than time to do it, so social anything is pretty much at the bottom of the list!

I’m not the only Indie who thinks and feels this way. It was actually self-published author Catherine Howard who got me thinking about this in the first place. Her thoughts can be read here.

The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos

How-Tos2At long last I can officially announce the release of the first two eBooks in my The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos:

How To Preserve Eggs: freezing, pickling, dehydrating, larding, water glassing, & more

How To Make a Buck Rag: & other good things to know about breeding your goats

Originally, I was going to put all the how-tos together in a paperback. When the discussion about eBooks came up, I figured this would be a good way to start small and learn the eBook ropes.

Official blurb:
From the author: “When I first published 5 Acres & A Dream The Book: The Challenges of Establishing a Self-Sufficient Homestead, I described it as neither a how-to nor a why-to book. Although it contains quite a bit of practical advice about many homesteading skills, it is mostly the story of our homestead journey: ups, downs, successes, mistakes, and the lessons learned from them. The Little Series of Homestead How-Tos is a compliment to that book. It is a work in progress which will eventually include the skills mentioned in 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, plus others as well. I hope it will encourage you toward your own self-reliant lifestyles.”

They are available at both Amazon and Smashwords, in all eBook formats. List price is 99¢ each, but for a limited time, either book can be downloaded for free from Smashwords. The official kick-off and promotion are over at my homesteading blog, so head on over to 5 Acres & A Dream The Blog for details and the coupon codes. Also, I’m hoping for feedback from readers, with a list of questions at my blog as well. Opinions welcome.

These eBooks are an experiment for me. They were challenging, but learning something new is always rewarding. Whether or not they are of interest and use to readers remains to be seen!

Update on the Odd Amazon Categories

When I saw this

#1 Best Seller in Caribbean History???

#1 Best Seller in Caribbean History???

I knew it was time to do something. I went to Author Central and sent a message to Amazon. They responded quickly and told me how to select other categories. I asked them to delete “Caribbean & West Indies” and “White Collar Crime” and asked to add “Sustainable Agriculture”.  I could have added another but couldn’t find one I thought fit.

Amazon_new_categories2I’m happy with the Best Sellers Rank in the new category, although I’m sure it has more to do with less competition in that category. These rankings do fluctuate wildly, even so, it’s encouraging to have stayed on these lists for as many months as I have. Here’s hoping future books do as well.

 

Odd Book Stats At Amazon

I like to check my book’s Amazon page from time to time, to see if there are new reviews and to see if it’s still on the Sustainable Living best seller list. I was surprised to discover it was ranking on two additional best seller lists as well –

odd+at+Amazon

#3 in “Caribbean & West Indies” best sellers? Really? Was it the mention of heavy seasonal rains in Chapter 3, “Setting Priorities”? Or my discussion of solar energy in Chapter 8, “Energy Self-Sufficiency”?

How about #4 in “White Collar Crime”? Was it that part about doing in the rooster, in Chapter 11, “Difficult Things”?

By what stretch of the imagination does 5 Acres & A Dream The Book: The Challenges of Establishing a Self-Sufficient Homestead come close to either of those categories! It’s great to have such high rankings, but I’m afraid anyone purchasing a copy based on those ranks in those categories will be sorely disappointed.

Crafts, Home, and Hobbies > Sustainable Living was the category I chose when I published the book. I’ve been very pleased with my ranking in that category.

I asked about this on the CreateSpace community forum and learned that sometimes Amazon adds categories (based on ???). Also, that I can request to be added to categories. I reckon I’d better find something more appropriate than the two they selected.

How to Write a Better Review for Amazon (Or Anyplace Else)

How many of you use customer reviews when deciding whether to purchase something? I certainly do. I usually read the “most helpful” 5 star and critical reviews, choose a few in between, then make choices based on my analysis of these.

Reviews took on a different meaning when I published my own book. Of course I hoped for lots of 5 star reviews and dreaded the first 1, 2, or 3 star reviews. I didn’t know what to expect either way, but mostly I hoped for reviews that would help me become a better writer and publisher.

In reading reviews, I mentally categorize them as either helpful or not helpful. This isn’t based on the reviewer’s rating of the product, but rather on the content of the review itself.

A rating system (stars at Amazon, for example) is subjective. Very subjective. A helpful review explains the reasoning behind the rating. I once had someone tell me that they never gave 5 star reviews because they didn’t trust them. Their review of my book was an excellent, well-written one, but I’m sure it left folks wondering why it got dinged one star.

Being a subjective assessment, the rating often reflects the reader’s previous knowledge and expertise on the subject matter. The book may be excellent at an introductory level, but less helpful for someone looking for more advanced or specific material and therefore get a variety of ratings. The rating will reflect the reader’s expectations plus how well their needs were met. Reading multiple review helps determine this, but I think the author can help by disclosing this in the blurbs. Potential customers can also ask questions (on Amazon, at least) to clarify their own concerns.

Another problem with the rating system is that it is sometimes improperly directed. With products, for example a low rating is often given to a good product if a customer has a bad experience with a third party seller. It would be better if the reviewer used the proper venue for this, by leaving third party seller feedback.

One thing that helps is that Amazon enables other customers to rate and leave feedback on the comments. I find these useful as well.

So what makes for a good review?

For products, I tend to skip over reviews from folks who’ve just purchased or only had the item for several weeks. At this stage, everyone rates well unless they had a bad customer experience or got a dud (although too many duds or a consistent specific problem doesn’t bode well for the manufacturer). A review from someone who has been using the product for months or longer is much more useful.

If a rating is less than 5 stars, my first question is “why?” Personal opinion is never right or wrong, but the rationale for the rating may help someone else in their decision making. Often, the product if fine but doesn’t meet the buyer’s expectations. That’s where good product descriptions and customer reviews help if they contain good details. For books, especially non-fiction, it often means that the blurb does not accurately reflect the content. I’ll be the first one to admit that writing a blurb for oneself is extremely difficult. Yes, it’s a opportunity to sell books, but more importantly, it’s an opportunity to let the reader know what to expect.

Last but definitely not least, is giving a rationale for the rating. If it didn’t meet expectations, why not? Give some examples of what you liked and what you didn’t. Was it helpful? Tell us how. Did anything stand out? Tell us what. Is there something you wished was different? Give us details. Was the book interesting, humorous, thought provoking? Would you read it again or recommend it to others?

Personally I think customer reviews are one of the best innovations to hit marketing, especially in a day and age when the truth in “truth in advertising” has been redefined (as has “quality). So, take some time to review products or books that you have something to say about. I invite you to take a look at my book reviews (including my first 3 star and first spam review) here. If you have the time and inclination, please join the conversation.

Trading For Advertising

Awhile back my husband and I were talking earning money from my writing, and he asked about magazine articles. I replied that they don’t pay very well and we dropped the subject. A couple of days later I was reading a homestead email list I belong to, and saw a request from the editor of Goat Rancher magazine for articles for their upcoming homesteading issue.

I responded to the inquiry and was invited to submit an article. I was told they did not pay for articles, but that they would put in a plug for a website or something. I replied that I was hoping to trade for a bit of advertising. They agreed. The issue has just come out and the ad accompanies my article, “Toward Self-Sustaining Goatkeeping”.

Goat_Rancher_adI was also given a nice highlight in the table of contents. I’m very pleased and will be interested in whether or not I get a boost in sales.

This issue of Goat Rancher will be available on March 10th from Tractor Supply Co. It can be read online here.