Are books that are perma-free causing a problem for writers trying to crack Amazon’s crucial top 100 listings?
As most authors know, once a book gets into the top 100 – whether for a specific genre or for all books on Kindle – the number of downloads can soar.
For those of us (and it’s a huge number) who use it, Amazon’s KDP platform enables us to offer our books free for five days every quarter.
Now, giving away books is satisfying on one level purely because I know that at least some of those people who download my book will then read it. (Even better, some will post reviews, which helps hugely with future sales.)
But giving your book away for free is also excellent marketing. Every time someone downloads your free book, there’s an increased chance of your book’s title and cover appearing in that wonderful ‘customers who bought this item also bought…’ feature on Amazon.
I generally find that every time I give away a few thousand free copies an immediate bump in actual sales follows. And not only is it deeply satisfying to know some readers are prepared to pay money for my work but it’s also good to know there’s going to be more money coming into my bank account!
When plugging a freebie, there are many websites willing to help you – sometimes for free but more often for a small sum. Which is all well and good but those Amazon top 100 lists are still what we need to aim for.
Why? Well, according to Anthony Wessel of Digital Book Today: “Once an author is able to get their book onto an Amazon Top 100 Free Books in a sub-genre category list, the 800-pound gorilla which is Amazon takes over and usually trumps all other book sites on the market in terms of driving discoverability and potential downloads for your free book listing.”
But when I look at those lists on Amazon, I see a lot of the same titles time and time again. Sometimes it’s old classics that have been reissued but sometimes it’s books by other indie authors (some of which I’ve read).
However, I know from the frequency they appear in the free lists that they’re on offer for far more than five days every three months.
I understand this is possible because of Amazon’s price-match policy. If an author offers a book free through other publishers, Amazon will then match the price, making books effectively perma-free (or on offer so often as to make no difference).
Because being in these lists creates its own momentum, it also means that books regularly in the top 100 will inevitably get dozens of reviews from the tens of thousands of downloads they’ve had. Look in today’s list and you’ll see some books with 1,000+ reviews – twice as many of some of the classics!
Why does this matter? Well, like I say, I’ve read some of these books and they’re good. Not necessarily great but good. (Some are probably more like okay but that’s just my opinion). But because they’re perma-free and have so many reviews then more readers keep on downloading them, they stay in the top of the lists… and they’re very hard to knock off those top spots!
Personally, I think Amazon should either review their policies or bring in a new category – Top 100 Free Offers – and limit those lists to books that are temporarily free not perma-free.
Anyone got any other opinions?
Here’s a New Year puzzler. Nothing to do with space exploration but on the vagaries of the English language.
I’ve been teaching a Polish student recently and was doing some work on the use of articles – a, an and the – when talking about ‘things’.
Some rules are easy to explain – we put a or an in front of singular nouns when talking about something that we’re introducing for the first time, when the thing is one of many etc. The goes in front of plural nouns or when the individual thing is unique or we know specifically what we’re talking about.
We also don’t use an article (often confusing referred to as the zero article) when referring to certain things, including countries, people, concepts, types of things and some geographical features.
Agreen-skinned man from _ Mars was discussing _ politics as he had _ lunch with thePope on _ Thursday, while sailing a boat across _ Lake Chad in preparation for his crossing of theAtlantic Ocean.
It seems obvious when it’s your own language but believe me it’s not that simple for people learning English for the first time. A lot of my students would probably put the in front of Mars, politics, lunch and Thursday.
(I got confused when trying to learn Portuguese as they put the in front of proper names!)
But what’s got me really puzzled is NASA (and FIFA). Normally, with acronyms for organisations we follow the same pattern as if we spelt the name out in full, e.g. the BBC and the FBI but _ IBM.
So far so good. But can anyone explain why we talk about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association) but not the NASA? I thought for a while it was to do with collective nouns but how does that work with the CIA and the RAF.
Answers on a postcard please…
So, fancy a new car for less than £1,000 or a television for under £60? Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not a trick – just how much these things were being advertised for back in 1963.
The newspaper where I work two days a week runs a ’50 Years Ago Today’ column and today I had the job of going through the old archives to find some suitable stories.
The news was interesting – in part for the historical details. There was mention of President Tito of Yugoslavia driving through the area on his way back from a UN meeting and local rows about whether fluoride should be added to the Hampshire’s water supplies.
What was also interesting was how similar much of the news was to what goes in the paper today. Some people have a rose-tinted view of life in the past but judging by the stories in the paper it wasn’t that different.
Okay, no mention of drugs but otherwise still plenty of the usual local newspaper staples – theft, drink-driving and petty squabbles.
Even at a national level I found familiar themes. The New Forest’s Conservative Member of Parliament warning that the Government needed to take action to keep mortgage costs down because young couples were being priced out of the property market. (We certainly haven’t solved that one!)
What I found just as fascinating, though, were the adverts. Back in November last year, I wrote a post called The Pace Of Change, mostly talking about how technology had changed in my lifetime.
Looking through the newspaper adverts from 1963 was weird. This was two years before I was born but it was like a world out of a book or film.
The new Singer Vogue – yours for £685 plus tax – boasted ‘fully adjustable front seats’ and even came ‘now with front disc brakes’. The ad also highlighted the fact: ‘greasing points now completely eliminated’.
What! Did people have to grease their cars before 1963?
Alternatively, buying the new telly would set you back £59.85. But that was without legs. They were another £2.10.
Looking at the ads for electrical goods was like staring into the technological dark ages. One advert offered a deal encouraging you to buy two televisions – ‘be a two TV man and get the best of both channels!’
Yes. That’s right. In 1963 British viewers had the choice of BBC or ITV. The BBC2 channel didn’t come along until 1964 and Channel 4 was a very, very long way off.
There was also the ad for the Bush auto-player. This marvel could play both 10 and 12″ records – and was ‘wired for adapting to stereo’.
An advert for bathrooms highlighted the fact there was a ‘wonderful choice of colours’, while the National Coal Board was plugging (coal-fired) free-standing cookers that could not only heat the kitchen but provide ‘the luxury of instant hot water’.
If that much can change in 50 years, it makes you wonder what they’re going to be advertising in 2063!
Blast From The Past
I had a different kind of blast from the past last night. I went to see the Boomtown Rats at Boscombe Academy.
For those of you poor people not familiar with the Boomtown Rats, they’re the Irish new wave band led by Bob Geldof that had a string of hits in the late 1970s – and reformed this year. Their best known song – in the UK at least – is probably I Don’t Like Mondays:
Back when this came out, I was still at school and – like so many others – could totally relate to the sentiment of the title.
But the story behind this song is much darker than just wanting to get out of school. In January 1979, the Boomtown Rats were on tour in the US and Geldof was giving a radio interview in Atlanta when the telex machine (?!) next to him started printing out a report on a school shooting in San Diego.
A 16-year-old girl called Brenda Ann Spencer had picked up the semi-automatic rifle her father gave her for Christmas (she later claimed she had asked for a radio). Spencer started firing across the street into the local elementary school, killing the headteacher and the school custodian, and injuring eight children.
At the time, Spencer’s explanation was “I don’t like Mondays”. Geldof adds that at the time a journalist was asking her “tell me why” – which became part of the refrain.
I’m not going to comment on the link between the first part of this post and that story. Except to say that it’s sad how some things don’t change and perhaps the world would be a better place if we worried more about people than having the latest ‘things’.
Nuff said. I’ve got to finish rewriting the ending of a book.
Excellent advice from two very valuable sources!
Anyone familiar with Joanna Penn’s blog – The Creative Penn – will know what an excellent resource it is for writers, particularly on marketing, where she regularly offers no-nonsense advice that actually works.
When I heard she was writing a book on marketing, I was eager to see what she would come up with, and managed to wangle an advance copy.
How To Market A Book is a comprehensive guide to book marketing, with a much wider scope than something like my own Let’s Get Visible. I can see it being particularly useful for those who are struggling to get to grips with marketing (or to fit it into their busy schedule), but I think everyone could get something from it (including traditionally published authors).
The book takes a holistic approach, covering short term marketing like book reviews and ad sites, as well as longer term marketing like author…
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It’s probably fair to say that most writers can be a tad obsessive. We spend months – sometimes years – hiding away as we work at something no one else can really comprehend.
If we’re lucky, at the end of the process we’ll unveil our masterpiece to universal acclaim.
Well, that’s the secret hope. Sadly, what’s probably more likely is that our nearest and dearest will say ‘that’s clever’ and a handful of strangers might read our great work and think it reasonably entertaining.
If we’re really lucky – and also good at other arcane arts like marketing – who knows… maybe some people out there will even pay money to read what we’ve laboured over for all those hours.
Like I said, you’re not likely to write a full novel unless you’ve got a certain amount of obsessive, bloody-minded, stubborn persistence in you.
Recently, though, I went to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu and found myself looking at Bluebird. The car in which Donald Campbell broke the land speed record in 1964.
Bluebird is a monster. It makes the Batmobile look like a toy. The car is 30ft long and weighs four tons. You could lose a child inside the air intake at the front and, with a little glass bubble over the tiny driver’s cockpit, it looks more like a submarine than a car.
Campbell hit a top speed of 403.1 mph in the car – disappointing as Bluebird had been designed to reach 500mph. Unfortunately, however, the surface of Lake Eyre in Australia where he set the record wasn’t dry and hard enough to get the car up to its max.
But Campbell’s mission wasn’t something he came up with over a weekend. He (and his team) spent eight years building this version of Bluebird and preparing for what was his second land speed record.
That’s only part of the story, though. Campbell had previously broken the water speed record in 1955 and set a total of eight water and land speed records. Tragically – or inevitably – he died in January 1967 on Coniston Water when his boat (also called Bluebird) flipped over after reaching a speed of 328mph during another attempt on the water speed record.
Now, I’m one of those blokes who missed the ‘car’ gene. Personally, I think they’re useful for getting about but I don’t get excited by cylinders, metallic paint and fuel injection. Speed just doesn’t excite me.
But for Campbell it was everything. He dedicated his life, literally, to going faster. Seeing Bluebird at the National Motor Museum reminded me that it’s not just writers who can be a bit obsessive. Maybe the question is, can you be great without being obsessive?
PS. I know this blog’s not had much attention recently. I blame a combination of factors – work (always the biggest nuisance in my life), house-hunting ( thankfully successful) and a major dental problem (don’t get me started on that one or I’ll be ranting about rip-off dentists until the cows come home).
I’m not promising an immediate return to more regular service as I hate making promises that I might break. On the other hand, between dealing with all these inconveniences, I have managed to write quite a few thousand new words on my new novel.
I’m now on the last chapter of Church Of The White Rabbits. So, to all those lovely people who offered all those weeks ago to be a beta reader, hopefully I’ll be in touch soon!
Writer’s block is so annoying. A couple of months ago all was fine. My current project seemed to be on a roll. I was writing one chapter straight after another, barely having to pause for thought.
It’s the kind of mental zone any author loves to be in. The words are flowing, the end is in sight and there’s even a (loose) plan on how to get there. (And I do so hate having to think.)
But then… Well, it all started to slow down a month or so ago.
I partly blame life – the real kind – for interfering. Not only did I have more work on but we’d got buyers for our house in Cornwall. With the real possibility of getting some money in the bank within a few months, Carolyn and I then couldn’t help but start to look at possible homes around here.
Inevitably more hours spent working (and thinking about work) and looking at options for places to live have meant less time for writing. All these things going on probably also meant less spare capacity for my brain to cook up plots, scenarios and dialogue. (Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will know that my mind is the kind that works best when not given any conscious instructions – let ideas fester on their own and my subconscious will eventually dish out the goods.)
The fact that the weather has finally turned nice hasn’t helped either. All that sunshine out there makes me look out of the window rather than at the screen in front of me.
To begin with, I didn’t worry when the word flow began to dip. We went off on holiday for 12 days at the end of May but we’ve been back for more than a week now and I was hoping to do some writing this evening.
Then I looked at where I’d left it with the White Rabbits… and my brain just feels like it’s full of sawdust! I know roughly what’s left to write. I’ve got a vague outline – and various loose threads to tie together. But it just isn’t coming.
So what’s the answer – whisky, sleep, exercise, yoga, another holiday?
Arrrrgh. Writer’s block isn’t just annoying. It’s gut-churning, fingernail-chewing, mind-numbing, anxiety-making, confidence-sapping frustration. Hate it!
Any tips on how to slay the beast and awaken my inspiration?