Book News: Free or Not to Free? That is the question!

For those of you who have hung around here a while, you probably know that I have made the first book of each of my two book series free, at least with every outlet I can do so.  Now, the obvious intent of this was to stick my foot in the door, to provide a free sample to entice readers and lure them in to read the rest of each series.  It certainly does seem to have spread interest a fair bit and I’m seeing a slow trickle from the free books to the pay books.

Also, you probably know I am very close to wrapping these initial trilogies (a term I am loathe to use because I fully intend to revisit both of these fictional worlds down the road).  What I wonder is if I should continue to keep those first books free?  At least after perhaps a month or so of the series completion.

Putting a window on the free books might create a rush of activity, a sense of urgency to get a toe in the door, pushed on by the knowledge that, YES, this series IS complete.  At the same time, would the good will generated by that openly free book be crushed by suddenly cutting off the tap?  I admit that I don’t have the marketing skills to really gauge the risk factor here.

So, any of you writers, editors, publishers, literary folk, do you have any insights on this?  Is it better to keep that gateway open for impulse readers to grab a free book and get hooked?  Or decide that it’s time to cut off the free lunch line?

The Ethics of Reviewing: Questions for veteran authors

One thing that remains clear to me as I continue my odyssey as a self-published author is that, for all the research and preparation, I could never be totally prepared for what all is involved.  The biggest stumbling block, the one that I imagine stymies most indie authors, is self-promotion.  The truth is I am horrible at it.  Not in the sense that I tell prospective readers to stuff it or any conventional PR disaster, it is simply that I don’t want to be bothered by it.  I’m a writer … I would much rather be left alone to, you know, write.  The vast amount of time and energy to be invested in constantly shilling oneself is amazing and, frankly, to someone such as myself who usually has a humble self-image, it is hard to put myself forth as ‘THE BEST THING EVAR’ because I don’t truly believe that, no matter how good I feel about my books.

What does this have to do with the topic of this piece?    As many of you may know, reviews and ratings are a critical part of marketing success.  You can have a good cover, a nice blurb, but get shot in the foot by a string of 1-star reviews.  Even if you have no reviews, you are basically asking people to give you a chance with no assurance of success.  This can be especially vital if your book has a ‘slow burn’ and the real meat of the novel may not be apparent in whatever preview the retailer allows.   It’s a classic ‘chicken and the egg’ conundrum:  You need good ratings to get people to read your book but you need people to read your book to give you good ratings.

Obviously, there is a financial market that has sprung up around this.  I notice one key service almost every book marketing package includes is guaranteed reviews.  On top of that, I noticed, to my absolute confusion, that I could review my own books?! Talk about ultimate bias!

I suppose here are my questions to veteran indie writers:

– How do you approach trying to gather reviews?

– Do the ethical implications of some of the more questionable promotional services bother you, such as guaranteed reviews and changes that alter your vision of your work (radically rewritten novel blurbs and descriptions, tagging to fit the market and not the book, etc.)?

– Do you think it is ethical in any sense to review or rate your own book, beyond a simple ‘Like or Don’t Like’ system?

– Is there a way to balance self-promotion and actual writing without paying hundreds of dollars to someone to manage it for you?

– Should I just damn the ethics and charge full speed ahead into self-promotion land?