“Free” Really Can Make You Money – A Dialogue With Moses Siregar III

There is a lot of talk at the moment about free books, whether they cannibalize your sales or those of other authors, and whether all content will be free in the future.

I’ve always argued that “free” can drive up your sales, but it really needs to be part of an overall strategy.

In July, fantasy author Moses Siregar III wrote a fascinating guest post on a radical approach he was taking with “free”.

He also promised to come back after his novel was out to tell us all if it worked or not. We spoke at the end of August over the course of a couple of days.

Dave: Hi Moses. The last time we spoke, you were about a week away from releasing your first novel The Black God’s War which came out on August 1st.

In your guest post in July, you detailed the steps you took in building your platform and getting your name out there. Part of your strategy was the release of a novella which was essentially carved out of the novel. When you were able to get Amazon to list it for free, downloads went through the roof.

I think a lot of people read your post with interest, wondering what effect the free novella would have on your launch. So, I guess the first question is, how is the book doing?

Moses: Thanks very much for having me back, David. For a debut indie novel, sales have been very good, averaging 15 sales a day so far, now that we’re almost at the end of August. The first monthly total is projecting to around 450 sales, which I consider good because August is probably the worst month of the year for book sales.

If we try to judge how much effect having the free novella has had so far, I think it’s a mixed review. On the one hand, the book is selling far more copies than a typical debut. On the other hand, I’ve been doing a lot to promote it and it’s not selling at an obscene rate (despite approximately 20,000 free downloads on the novella).

It’s also too early to know where my sales are going; I won’t be shocked if sales drop off a lot in September, though I’m hoping that word of mouth will start to carry the book, because so far people seem to be really enjoying it (judging from reviews).

I feel like the book is right on the edge between early success and early failure. It’s generally getting enough sales to stay in the top ten of the “Hot New Releases” in Epic Fantasy (a list you can only be on for one month, unfortunately), but not enough to be in the “Best Sellers” in Epic Fantasy, although for the first ten days or so, it was on that list, too.

So far the reviews have been very kind, but I know that if the book eventually reaches a large audience, it will get a spectrum of reviews—as any successful book inevitably does. But it’s received some fairly glowing 5-star reviews from the normally stingy MotherLode and IndieFantasyReview, as well as some other blogs.

Dave: And of course, you can use those reviews for promotional purposes to help spread the word even further. I think that’s a phenomenal first month though, by any measure. And if you consider that a lot of people that downloaded the novella probably haven’t even heard that you have released the book yet, that number can only climb.

You’re right, it’s all about word of mouth. The #1 reason people buy a book is because they have read something by the author before and enjoyed it. The #2 reason is a recommendation from a trusted source: a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a review, a blog, whatever. With those 20,000 downloads, you have done all you can for #1, and it sounds like you are making headway with #2.

You have all the pieces in place: a good book in a popular genre, a striking cover, an enticing blurb—a professional product all round. It sounds like your main task here is to get eyeballs on your book listing, and to get the book into the hands of people that will spread the word.

It seemed like the launch went perfectly. Is this spread of “word” of the book something you are going to let take its own course now, or do you have a specific promotional strategy? I guess what I’m asking is, are you focusing on writing more, or promotion? How do you balance that?

Moses: I’m learning now what a tough balancing act it is. It would be great to get to the point when Amazon’s automated recommendations were doing 99% of the work, so that you don’t have to promote, but for now my strategy is to spend a month (August) doing everything I can to promote the book and get word of mouth going. Even though I’m losing a month of writing time, if the book begins to get on a roll, maybe this month of promotion will be worth it in the long run.

Next month, I’ll have to force myself to stop doing so much promotion and focus on writing the next book. I’m enjoying the promotional work, but I’m weird. I see it as a fun challenge. I think most writers find the promotional stuff a drag. However, I’d gladly trade my amusement with book promotion for the ability to write four novels a year. :-)

By the way, just after we started this interview, I got the following email. Keep in mind that it’s just one person, though:

I should also mention your marketing strategy worked for me. I read the novella back in May then I searched for your blog to find the release day. I’m such a book geek I have a special color on my iCal for book release dates. I bought your book the day it came out.

Dave: That must be satisfying to hear. It can be difficult to accurately evaluate promotional strategies, but to hear direct confirmation like that is great. You mentioned writing speed there. I’m not a particularly fast writer—certainly not for book-length fiction—but I think I’m improving as I gain more experience.

I heard you say something just after your book came out. You were talking about the relief of finally getting it out there, all the work that was involved to get to that point, and that a couple of days after it came out, people were asking for the next one!

As you gain more fans like the one quoted above, they are all going to be asking the same question. Do you feel under pressure to write faster? Am I going to have to write a blog post in 6 months – aimed at your rabid fans – called “Moses Siregar III is not your b*tch”?

Moses: Haha! You do realize you just volunteered for this, right? This has surprised me, but I actually am starting to hear from (a handful of) readers who are already—dare I say—impatient about waiting for my next book.

The pressure I feel to write faster is, luckily, coming from within. I’m a big believer in being motivated from within. For example, I never want to try to write faster to compete with anyone else or to prove anyone wrong. That gives away your power to others and you’ll never be happy if I’m always measuring yourself against others. I want to write the best books I can. I hope to write them quickly, but the more important thing is to give readers the best I have to offer.

Since this post is mostly about whether or not my free novella marketing strategy was successful, I’ll summarize my thoughts. I think the free novella helped me to generate early buzz about me and my work—no doubt. I think it’s helping me to sell some books right out of the gate—no doubt. I think the main risk to this strategy is that if the free work isn’t good enough, you could be turning away readers before your book even comes out.

But here’s what I think I’ve learned about the Most Important Thing(TM): All the promotion in the world can only do so much for a subpar book. Promoting a book is hard work. The only thing that will carry your books for years and years is good word of mouth.

If you don’t work on your books until they are just about as good as you can possibly make them, you might get some good sales for a short period of time, but you’re unlikely to continue to sell books after you burn out on promoting them.

The Most Important Thing(TM) is to write a book that’s going to take people on a ride that is so thrilling that you won’t have to spend all of your time doing book promotion. Instead, you want to be able to move on to writing the next book in your series and let happy readers become your voluntary sales force. That’s my goal.

***

You can keep track of Moses at his blog, and he also contributes to the always excellent podcasts from Adventures In Sci-Fi Publishing.

His highly-rated debut novel The Black God’s War is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and you can even get it in paperback.

If you want to check out the free novella, that’s here, but Moses strongly recommends only reading the first five chapters before progressing to the novel, as they diverge after that point (in terms of chapter order).

Thanks to Moses for taking the time for a great chat!

Note: This post was scheduled to run in my absence while I am on vacation. I won’t be able to join in the comment fun, but please be my guest.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is a 34-year old Irish writer, living in London, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He is the author of the South American historical adventure "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" and the short stories "If You Go Into The Woods" and "Transfection" as well as the popular self-publishing guide "Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should."
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21 Responses to “Free” Really Can Make You Money – A Dialogue With Moses Siregar III

  1. Hi, Moses – So happy to find this interview here on David’s blog one day after I discovered your book on Kindle! (And this interview reminded me to purchase both the free novella and the full-length novel of THE BLACK GOD’S WAR, which I did a few minutes ago.) In case you’d like some feedback on what led me to buy your book: first, the book cover really caught my eye because it was both stunning and professionally done; then I looked at your reviews and you had really good ones; then I noticed your education and it looked like that could add significantly to the quality of the book. Good luck with your sales! Hope you become a mega-best-selling author!

  2. C.J. Archer says:

    It looks like going free was a great strategy, Moses. Well done on your successes to date and by the sound of it, you’ll probably have many more.

    Personally, my sales got a huge boost by putting 1 of my books free. Not only did its sequel sell 1,500 copies in August but my other books did well too. I don’t expect this to last but it has been a fun ride. Even better, I got some exposure at other ebookstores like B&N, Apple and Kobo where I’d previously struggled to get a foothold. The fan mail and reviews have been an added bonus. All in all, going free was a great strategy for me. Now making the book UNfree is a whole different ballgame :)

  3. Jaye says:

    Great guest post, Moses (thank you, David). It’s a bold experiment you’ve done. I have only one quibble:
    “I’m learning now what a tough balancing act it is. It would be great to get to the point when Amazon’s automated recommendations were doing 99% of the work, so that you don’t have to promote, but…”

    As indies, the rights are ours as well as the responsibilities. Falling into the trap of letting others “take care of it” could easily lead to “they’re the only ones allowed to do it and if you don’t like it, walk.” So be careful what you wish for.

    Now I’m going to find your book. It sounds like fun.

  4. Good job, Moses and David!

  5. Hi all, thanks for your comments. And thanks very much for having me back, David.

    I’m off to Day 4 of Dragon*Con (with no internet during the day), so I’ll do my best to check back later tonight.

  6. Pj Jones says:

    Moses, 15 sales a day for a notoriously slow month is awesome! I think you’ve done a phenomenal job marketing yourself, from cover art to eding and promotion. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it!

  7. Thanks for the post, Moses. I’m trying to get make my short story collection, Ghost Plane, free as a promotion, and it’s taking forever. Interesting to hear your feedback.

  8. Rex Jameson says:

    Congratulations on the phenomenal first month, Moses. You put a lot of effort into the book, and it’s great to see that it paid off!

  9. The single best thing I’ve done to promote my trilogy, When Women Were Warriors, was to offer Book I for free from my website and for 99 cents elsewhere. Books II and III are priced at $9.99, and about half the folks who try Book I for 99 cents go on to buy the other two.

    Catherine M Wilson
    http://www.catherinemwilson.com/free-ebook.html

  10. Moses, are you me in a parallel universe?
    My first book (Diary of the Displaced) went free and shifted about 20,000 downloads. I’m now selling roughly…15 copies a day! My last months sales (August) were roughly 450 :) And the last book I released got a 5 star review 3 hours after release and I got an email asking when the next one would be out. I hadn’t even finished posting promos for it.
    I almost feel like I should be starting a month of promotions just to make sure I don’t cause some paradox.
    Oh and I’ve written 4 books this year! (Writing the 5th now)

  11. I have always found Moses to be a very thoughtful and innovative indie author. His efforts inspire me to want to do better, and to think about the marketing and writing with equal artistic passion.

  12. Neil says:

    The first monthly total is projecting to around 450 sales, which I consider good because August is probably the worst month of the year for book sales.

    Sorry to be a stickler, but August is part of the ebook 2nd half boom.
    http://ebookcomments.blogspot.com/2011/07/may-2011-ebook-sales.html

    For ebooks, May is probably the worst month. That said, there is a HUGE ramp November through January and in 2011 February (will that happen again?). So if you were trying to imply your book is out before the busy selling season, you are 100% correct!

    Neil

    • Hi Neil, it’s interesting because the consensus around the Writer’s Cafe at Kindleboards.com, and among the indie authors I know, is that August is probably the worst month of the year for ebook sales. I also hear that July is terrible, but that graph indicates that July is great. I truly don’t know, though.

      Thanks very much for both of your comments, and thanks for the kick in the pants about getting back to writing!

  13. Neil says:

    First, I apologize, I consider 450 sales ‘out of the gate’ incredible and I should have noted that first. Just think, most authors need 3+ books to ‘hit stride.’ Oh… You probably will too. ;) Just a little ‘bigger stride.’ :)

    The #1 reason people buy a book is because they have read something by the author before and enjoyed it. The #2 reason is a recommendation from a trusted source: a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a review, a blog, whatever. With those 20,000 downloads, you have done all you can for #1, and it sounds like you are making headway with #2.

    Now there you did an successful strategy, its time to ‘feed the machine’ and write! ;)

    Good luck,
    Neil.

  14. Pingback: Rain is Good & So Might Be “‘Free’ Really Can Make You Money” | Blog of Ann Best, Debut Author of In the Mirror: A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

  15. saraflower says:

    Great interview! And it was encouraging to read of such great success for a new indie author.

  16. Pingback: A New Strategy for a New Year – Guest Post by Sarah Woodbury | David Gaughran

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