How 178 People Taught Me I’m Worthless

And why that’s a very good thing.

Sometimes it takes other people to show you what is already staring you in the face. Recently 178 people did just that and their actions helped prove that I’m worthless.

No matter what you create, whether it be writing, art, music or products, you have to accept at one point that the market will determine the value of what you create. Over the last few months, with the help of others, I’ve come to the conclusion that the writing I create is effectively worth $0.00.

So I’m making a change.

Because of this realisation I’ve made my first novel Tethered Twins totally free. It’s a story set in a world where everyone is born with a twin with whom they share a mental link. If their twin dies they die too. As of right now it’s worthless but that’s ok.

You can get it from these places:

Amazon — UK / US & Rest of World
iTunes— All Regions
Kobo — All Regions
Smashwords — All Regions

Why would I give away something that took months to create and even more months to market? Well it all started a few months ago with a simple experiment.

Back in December I asked for the help of friends and family to help promote an offer on my first novel Tethered Twins. After months of trying to sell the book at various price points I decided to experiment and make it free for five days (the maximum amount of time Amazon lets you make a book free via their KDP service).

I emailed over 1,000 people that I knew from various email and Social Media conversations and asked them to either download the book or share the fact it was free with others. What happened next changed my view on publishing forever.

Prior to making this change I’d sold about 100 books a month. Sales had spiked slightly when the book had been released but It’d never gained much traction. I was also aware that the sales spike books used to see after being free on Amazon was a thing of the past so I wasn’t too interested in seeing if sales would what rise after that either.

What really interested me was exactly how many people would read the entire book and either a) leave a review or b) buy the sequel. I knew giving away free books would be pointless if no-one read them and what I really wanted to know was if there was value in giving something away.

I’d experimented with this type of thing before, even going so far as writing a book on how people can get products for free based on my own experience convincing companies to send me over 700 free products. This time I wanted to see the other side of it and just how receptive people were to free products, especially one that would take 6-10 hours for them to read.

Of the people I emailed 178 of them helped in some form or another either by sharing the deal on Social Media or grabbing a copy themselves (or both). Interestingly although I’d mentioned the book several times on Social Media is was only when I emailed them that a lot of them really noticed it.

LESSON #1: If you want people to know what you have created, email is far more effective than Social Media.

People also seemed to really take to the idea of the experiment and liked the concept of trying to identify just how effective free products are. I think this helped boost the number of shares a little but I’m still fairly certain if I’d just asked my friends to share a message they’d have helped. The fundamental thing here is that people are generally keen to help but you tend to have to ask them and give them a reason to do so.

LESSON #2: If you want others to share the fact you’ve created a product, you’ll get far better results if you ask for help than waiting to see if they share it on their own.

Once people had shared the freebie I had to wait to see exactly how many people would download it. Amazon already has something of an epidemic of free books so the novelty of a book being free doesn’t elicit the same surprise as it once would have. Whilst I knew the people in my networks would help spread the message I also researched sites that share free book news and I asked them to share it as well. Loads of them helped which amplified my message beyond just those of my social networks.

LESSON #3: Perform outreach to other sites to promote your freebie and give them at least one week’s notice if you want them to help.

With the offer out there in as many places as I could think of I turned to Amazon to watch the results. Across the five day free period 5,098 free copies were given away. A sizeable amount and far more than the number of people I reached out too. Most likely this was due to people sharing it in their own networks (increasing the people who saw it) and the free sites telling their fans, as well as some people discovering it through Amazon as it rose up the rankings.

LESSON #4: The more different channels and people you use to help the greater chance of them overlapping and creating a far greater effect than the two channels would have done if run on different days and times.

I knew most of the books wouldn’t get read, especially given some people seem to collect free books like kids collect sweets on Halloween but that didn’t particularly matter. What mattered more were the knock on results. Within the weeks following the experiment Tethered Twins went from an average of two new reviews a month to ten a month, giving it twenty new reviews, almost all of which were positive.

LESSON #5: Giving free products away can increase reviews, ultimately making it easier to either sell the product later or convince more people to get it whilst free.

The positive experience with reviews was one of the defining factors in convincing me to make the book perma-free. For a new author reviews are pretty much the most important currency there is. Without them or with bad reviews the potential audience of readers is massively lower and even if people find your book on a store the chance of them buying is reduced. This was somewhat proven by the increase in sales that Tethered Twins saw following the free promotion, when it jumped from 10 sales a month to 160 sales a month. This is less than when I’ve run free promos in the past but indicated there is still some value.

LESSON #6: Amazon KDP Select free promotions can still have a positive effect on sales, but you need good reviews to convince people to buy.

So if sales of Tethered Twins increased why am I making it free? Well as is typical of the Amazon algorithms any boost a book gets will always come to an end unless you stoke the fire. Sure enough the sales rank plummeted within a month of the free promotion. That’s why it’s important to use other services to promote books and I’ll be looking at things like BookBub in the future as that’s been highly recommended.

LESSON #7: What goes up must come down. If you want good rankings on Amazon you need to spark fresh interest in your product every week, or every day in competitive categories.

The most fundamental piece of evidence that convinced me to go perma-free was not in fact anything to do with Tethered Twins at all. It was to do with its sequel Tethered Souls. I’d priced the book competitively at £3.00 / $5.00 putting it at similar prices to a lot of established authors. My logic behind this was that if people bought the sequel I’d know they saw my book in the same light as books by published authors. I wanted to prove that I could compete on quality without cutting costs.

LESSON #8: Whilst new authors face a challenge in getting people to start reading their books they don’t need to undercut others when it comes to selling other books once they have a readership.

Excitingly sales of Tethered Souls took a massive leap following the promotion, selling over 200 copies and turning over $1,000 in sales. All from a five day free promotion. From a personal point of view that felt like far more validation that I should continue writing than anything else. Knowing that people who bought the book for free then came back to buy the sequel at a normal price was far more rewarding than trying to make people buy the original book for a knock down price.

All of these lessons worked together to encourage me that my book was worth less than I imagined and that actually the most important thing wasn’t to get rich but simply to find readers and get their feedback. If they like the book then they may leave a review or buy the sequel, if they hate it well it didn’t cost them anything either.

All those other dreams I have as an indie author — getting published, selling the movie rights, making $1.2 trillion — may come later but my belief if that by going perma free I’m reaching the maximum possible audience for my work. Everything else is gravy.

Whilst I wouldn’t recommend giving a book away if you have no other books (unless you purely want reader feedback) it certainly proved to me that I should make Tethered Twins perma-free and that’s exactly what I did. You can grab it via any of the links below for free:

Amazon — UK | US & Rest of World
iTunes — All Regions
Kobo — All Regions
Smashwords — All Regions

As for whether or not this new gamble pays off I’ll be sure to write a follow-up.

Lastly I need to say a big thank you to the people who helped make this possible. My book may be worthless but they certainly are not.

Author of the Tethered Twins series of novels and Online Marketing Manager at Koozai. Follow me on Twitter as @Koozai_mike