Amazon’s KDP Select program, and its feature of enabling authors to make a book free for a few days, has treated me well. Since participating in it my sales have boomed and stayed high long after the giddy glow of free is over. So what could possibly be the negative?

Glad you asked. Otherwise there wouldn’t be much reason to write this blog, other than to tout my crap in unabashedly self-promotional fashion. Which I will do, early and often, but that’s besides the point.

As every one is by now aware, if you rank fairly high on your free days, you see a bump in sales for four or so days after, due to the Amazon algorithms treating free downloads the same as paid downloads for the purposes of things like the Movers and Shakers list, as well as “also bought” recommendations. That exposes your book to a whole new universe of potential readers, some of who will buy your book to give it a whirl. All good. Everybody wins. Or do they?


NEWS: New book review for King of Swords sequel, Revenge of the Assassin, by bestselling author Steven Konkoly.

MORE NEWS: Book review for pet biography An Angel With Fur from Pets Weekly.


One well documented downside to putting your book up for free for the majority of authors is the dreaded one star review – the drive-by slam that slags your work, often written as though the reviewer didn’t even bother reading it, by a reviewer who’s never reviewed anything else. My pet theory is that free exposes you to readers who would never buy your book and for whom it was never intended – they don’t like the genre, or they don’t like whatever the topic or underlying theme is, etc. But because it was free, they loaded up their kindle with whatever was hot on the lists, and then they started reading, and…blech. That book sucks.

Sometimes a book sucks. In fact, books often suck. Sucking isn’t unknown with indie books, where authors may have failed to get professional editing or proofing, and manuscripts can read more like incoherent first drafts than finished product. Typos, grammatical issues, continuity problems, echoes…and on and on.

But professionally executed books also get one star reviews, invariably after going free. Often, the review will say something like, “I don’t normally read erotica because of all the sex, but I thought I’d give Spank Happy Oiled Gladiators a try, and was reminded of why these books suck a bag of d#cks. I couldn’t finish it. Ugh.”

What we have here is a failure to communicate. (Note that I am not saying that low reviews are always, or even mostly, unwarranted. Everyone has different tastes, so one person reads Da Vinci Code and finds it gripping, and another finds it sub-custodial twaddle. That’s what makes a market. No, what I’m describing is well documented – the spate of one and two star reviews that invariably follow a free promotion, on a book that has universally gotten only positive reviews until then – where the consensus is that it’s a decent example of the breed)

The free reader who is leaving that one star slam wouldn’t have purchased the book, ever. It’s safe to say that reader wasn’t the audience it was written for. But free brought them to it, and now they feel they must share their dislike of it with the world. Hence the one star reviews after free. It’s just a theory, but my hunch is that if you are willing to pay $4 for the epic tale of greased up, corporal punishment-crazed warriors, you know what you’re buying, and thus are more accustomed to the norms in the genre, the content, etc.

It’s rare that I put a book free and don’t see the one star effect. Many authors dread it. I tend to be more philosophical. Free brings out all kinds, many of whom aren’t going to ever like anything you write, or in your chosen genre, because the filtering mechanism that is the reader laying down his/her money to read the work has been eliminated. Just as readers get everything from complete drivel to brilliant discoveries when they download a bunch of free books, authors get a mixed bag of readers from free – from “U ar a stoopid riter and ur buk suks!” to “Scintillating, salubrious sophistry structured with sartorial slyness.”

That’s just how it is. Welcome to the free book binge.

The other negative I’ve seen is that the fringe buyer for indie books, the reader at the margins who might have been willing to give a new author a test drive in exchange for a few bucks, now doesn’t. Instead, they download free books. Their kindles are clogged with books they will never have the time to read, but they can’t help themselves. It’s free, GD it! Getcher free stuff while you can! Obviously, poop and dirt are free, too, but most don’t load up and eat it just because there’s no cost. But the problem is that there is a glut of content that has taken those fringe readers out of the mix for indie authors, as they’re struggling to digest 1000 free books, and so aren’t buying anything right now. I believe that’s substantially contributed to the lower sales I’ve heard so much about over the last 30-60 days from many name indie authors. These aren’t folks struggling to sell a few dozen books. They are established authors with plenty of titles who are well regarded. And yet their sales are down, across the board, by at least 40-50%.

My pet theory is that this is the inevitable effect of free, and it will likely take the remainder of 2012 to rinse through the system.

What will stop the race to free for authors is the other negative nobody likes to discuss in polite company – namely, that the “bump in sales” effect free can create has gone from hundreds or thousands of sales, to only a few. The market has absorbed the promotional technique, and it’s no longer effective – just as other techniques worked until they didn’t – think .99 for an example.

In 2010, .99 was almost a guarantee of massive downloads. In 2011, not so much, and in 2012, it’s hit or mostly miss, at best. You still see some authors doing it, because they are reading “how to” books written in 2011 about what worked in 2010, but most quality authors don’t like the idea of making 1/6 the revenue at 35% commission on .99 as they would on 70% commission at $2.99. So it has lost effectiveness for two reasons – readers believe (often correctly) that .99 equates to barely readable dross, and authors believe that they are giving away their work at that price, undervaluing their product to no good purpose. Some still do it and are successful, so whatever, but most don’t anymore if they have any pricing power at all.

Free is great until it isn’t, and readers finally figure out that there’s a resource more precious than a few dollars: time. If they can pay $5 and be guaranteed of a read that gives them 10 hours of well-executed escape, that’s a better value than poring through dozens of marginal or worse books they got at no cost, only to delete them after the first twenty or thirty pages. Time is a commodity that doesn’t replenish, so in the end, I believe that most discerning readers will pay an equitable price for competent work. What that price winds up being is debatable. But it won’t be free, and likely won’t be .99, except as limited time promotions.

And now we come to the crassly commercial part of the blog. Check out the new cover below – I’m in the process of redoing the covers for Zero Sum, Fatal Exchange and Geronimo, and am almost done, so if that’s what you’ve been waiting for, get your credit card ready. That’s it for my blatant self-promotion for this episode. Now go buy something.

So there’s your installment of the view of the literary marketplace as seen through a tequila shot glass on the beach in Mexico. As with all things, your mileage may vary. In the end, the only things you can really control are the quality of the writing, the level of professionalism of your finished product, and the number of hours you invest in marketing. The rest is up to a finicky and randomly chaotic universe, so don’t quit your day job…




  1. Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 2:12 am

    I mostly agree with your article, Russell. Mostly. Thankfully, authors in our group (Evolved Publishing) have not experienced the 1-star review phenomenon to which you refer, even after 80,000 cumulative downloads (mostly of 6 books) the last couple months.

    However, we have seen the same diminishing of the value of KDP Select Free Days. They’re just not as effective as they were the first 3-4 months, which seems to be the life expectancy of “the latest fad.”

    This industry is so dominted by “do what that guy did” thinking, an ironically non-creative approach, that what works today rarely works 6 months from today. White noise inevitably drowns out the marketplace.

    In the end, the one true, consistently effective marketing tool for selling books is this: Quality Catalog.

    Prediction: The self-publishing boom will fizzle significantly within the next few years, as most fail to make any money at it, and realize their time is better spent elsewhere.

    Prediction: Indie publishers (and I mean real publishers) will scoop up the cream of the crop – those with great potential, but floundering with the self-published crowd – and give them a chance to rise above all that white noise.

    I could be wildly wrong, of course. Time will tell.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 9:21 am

      You’ve been lucky. I see it across all my friends, authors who have sold over 100K books paid, and those who have any sort of big free days (10K or more during their free experience). Regardless of genre, editing, writing quality. Count your blessings on that front.

      I agree that the boom will fizzle, and believe 2012 will be the year the dream fades for many who have been doing all the things they believe they need to in order to sell books – endless hours of social media, living on twitter and facebook, networking tirelessly, cross promoting, running ads, etc. etc. And they’ll look at their results, and think, “This sucks.”

      The fact is that most will NOT make money. In self publishing, or if trad pubbed. Writing a book is a lottery ticket. Authors hate that, but it’s true. The odds of being a commercially successful writer are worse than the odds of being struck by lightning (I think it was Konrath who first said that) – and the irony is that you can actually improve your chances of being struck by lightning.

      Which is why in so many blogs I’ve argued that folks should write because of love of craft, not because of any hope of making a living at it. It’s sad, but it’s also the only truth I know.

      • Pat Chiles  –  Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 5:34 pm

        This is something I’d been wondering about. I’ve not been active enough in following what’s happening with other indie writers thanks to those time-eaters like the day job, family, writing the next book, etc…

        I’ve noticed the same diminishing returns on KDP free days. First couple of promos were hugely successful and pushed my novel to the top 10 technothriller and scifi lists, and it hung on in the top 10-20 for several weeks.

        For some reason, sales fell off a cliff in the past couple of weeks. I’ve actually had more success running $.99 promos for a weekend or two than from free days since last month.

        Here’s what really threw me for a loop: the last two free promo days actually hurt my rankings! The free days would push it back into the top 3 of my genre lists, but would end up markedly lower when it went back on the paid lists.

        I’d neglected to shut off KDP Select’s auto-renew feature and am now committed until July. I suspect this trend will have run its course by then.

    • Charles Wells  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 10:25 am

      Agree with you Lane, Russ did a great job on the blog here.. but I was with an indy publisher that went belly up, walked off owing 200 authors five figures in royalties, PLUS, we (the authors) had to fight to regain rights to our books. I admit it’s rare but there are half a dozen similar cases in recent years. I’ve gone Indy (Since last November) and I’m never going back I don’t care who offers me a contract. And as for KDP free, well, I agree with Mark over at Smashwords.. it’s doing a lot more harm than good. Right now (and I’m a rare case) I move more books via smashwords/Barnes/Diesel etc etc than I do on Amazon.. I’m not advocating anything here OTHER than my personal pref is to stay an Indy and ride with the tide.
      Great Article Russ.. (Got you on Twitter)
      Chas Wells (@Charles_e_Wells)

  2. Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 9:33 am

    Great post. Ok a little humor from a review I read while researching a book promotion. This was from a 2 star review. This guy knows his stats.

    “Only 7 percent of the population is going to understand several of the words the author uses. I am unsure if the goal was to “show off” intellect, to be condescending, to write only for that small population, or just because he has a word of the day calendar and can only use the words in a book. Stentorian, mellifluous, ubiquitous, castigation (used incorrectly anyway), vacuous, antebellum, peripatetic, etc. True, some can be gleaned by use. To stop and ponder what the heck is being said/meant, to grab a dictionary, or to use the kindle dictionary. I only had to consider one – but, I fall into the top 7 percent of the knowledge base.”

    • Vanessa Wu  –  Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 4:44 pm

      Love this comment. Hehe. It has so many layers and such vast depths of absurdity.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 5:05 pm

      Perhaps we should all write for the lowest common denominator. That seems to be the reviewer’s point. Celebrate illiteracy and ignorance, and race to the the bottom, embracing a style that is little more than bursts of text messaging. “My head hurts from all the big words, thus this book sucks, because most of the population is stupid and won’t understand the language used.” David Foster Wallace is turning at 10K RPM in his grave.

  3. Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 9:46 am

    Will the “free” fad be over? I would still give it another couple years. I still think the next couple of holiday seasons will see a huge amount of readers going to digital (tablets/kindle).

    As a veteran of the retail industry (computers/books), I think the last 3 months have been the “Christmas buying season” for ebooks. This happens only after the user has received the gift. We could see this same cycle next Jan/Feb/Mar – just not maybe in quite the same volume. I would challenge indie’s to be much better prepared. There was a lot of “by the seat of my pants” promotions in the past 4 months.

    What was a negative from the retail book industry for me? Planning & buying for the holidays in June. Christmas was 7 months. I hope to help and challenge indie authors to really plan their promo’s for this huge buying season (Jan/Feb/Mar). I think this is the time for an Indie to really make their $’s. — or I may be wrong.

    Lastly, traditionally book sales are relatively flat for 46 weeks of the year with only a couple of minor spikes in sales – at least in the retail book industry. Online might be different.

    Have a great day.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 10:20 am

      I think that online is completely different than retail, because it is more reactive, and not dependent upon things like shelf space. What I’ve seen is that a title can be white hot for one month, then trail off and be cold, only to come screaming back based on a successful promo. But it’s a binge or purge cycle. And very dramatic. I only have to look at my own catalog to see it – last month’s big mover is this month’s relative laggard. The prior month’s is in the toilet, but several others that weren’t doing much kicked in as though just discovered. Online gives us more real time data, which negates the smoothing effect one might see in a store, where if you have the end cap, you’ll sell nicely regardless of season. Just my theory.

  4. Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 11:14 am


    Very thoughtful on a lot of fronts. I think we will see new ways to promote almost daily and the formula that works one month won’t work the next, just as you say.

    And maybe it won’t ever work.

    We will see price points settle out some in 2012 and I believe they will be in the 2.99 to 4.99 range. I also think you are right that many authors who jumped on the self-pub bandwagon will jump off it this year when they realize how hard it is the keep going and how much work this writing gig takes.

    On the 1 star reviews, I agree that they just come with the territory. So far I haven’t had a one-star, but I have had 1 two-star, and it is the one that Anthony quoted a section of in a comment above. The reviewer acquired the book on a free day. So go figure. But I agree with you that if the reviewer has some skin in the game, i.e., if they have paid their hard-earned money for a book, they may have more of a tendency to read the book and give it a chance.

    Keep up the god work.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 4:26 pm

      I hope you’re right that prices will settle in that range. I keep hearing different opinions of the future, and none really agree. Some see the future of indie as free and .99. Others see it as higher priced. Still others believe library lending will crush everyone’s desire to buy a book. The only thing I can say with certainty is that nobody seems to know what the end of the year will look like, much less the end of the decade. Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing. People seem to like my scribbling, so as long as I have readers, I guess I’ll be a writer.

  5. Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Very nice thoughts. Lots to consider. Getting the book in the right hands is a must. You still won’t be able to skip all the 1-star reviews, though. Wish people would use their head before giving a one-star.

    We should find a way to rate the raters.

    • Charlotte Abel  –  Thu 03rd May 2012 at 8:42 pm

      You can “rate the raters” on Amazon. Just click the “yes” or “no” button after “Was this review helpful to you?” You want to keep your most favorable “negative” review near the top. One of my books has a 3 star review: “Get rid of the sex and swearing and it’s a 5 star story” I love that review! It buffers the nasty 1 stars I got after going free AND I think it sells more books.

  6. Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Some interesting and informed views from everyone. Much to consider. Thank you.

  7. Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Great post! Not to mention one of the funniest things I’ve read all week. Totally agree with your points, Russell. I’m on an e-mail loop with 200+ other indies (mostly romance and mystery authors, 2 fairly popular genres) and everyone has been reporting that free just ain’t what it used to be.

    I think we’ve lost what I call “the scoop factor,” where readers grabbing Book 1 of a series for free would scoop up Books 2 and 3 at the same time. Doesn’t seem to be happening anymore. These days, readers grab the freebie and go off in search of more freebies.

    I haven’t done any freebies so far, and I’m happy to report that my sales are just fine. I raised my prices from $2.99 to $3.49 last month (because I think readers are getting leery of that $2.99 price point) and it didn’t dent my rankings at all.

    I think the most effective marketing tool is the same as its always been: one quality book after another after another…

    Speaking of which, I need to get back to work on Book 3 of my trilogy.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 7:16 pm

      I haven’t noticed any difference in sales between $2.99, $3.99 or $4.99. Which is counter-intuitive. Maybe this is like beer in a bar on Saturday night – you want one, you pay whatever it is. You don’t really care much whether it’s $4 or $6.

      Not so sure about the series thing. Night of the Assassin has been free now for 4 months, and sales of King of Swords and my new Revenge of the Assassin are doing well. What’s telling is that my sales in England continue to increase and haven’t shown a dip – then again, they don’t have free there, now do they?

      Overall, my sales are multiples higher since doing the KDP Select thing since mid-January, with considerable trepidation, so I can’t whine. Although I do. Regularly. But I shouldn’t. Much.

  8. CheriS
    Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 11:17 pm

    I don’t agree with your take on reviews. Authors need to adopt the attitude that the customer is always right. Without readers AND reviewers writing sits unread. If a reader thinks that a book deserves a one star review, it does, for the reader.

    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 26th Apr 2012 at 11:42 pm

      We have to agree to disagree, then. Because the customer is not always right. Not by a long shot. That’s a folksy customer service slogan, not a description of reality. Customers are often wrong.

      As an example, if a customer mistakes the gas for the brake, and plows into a crowd or their garage wall, it’s not the car company’s fault. It’s not uncontrolled acceleration, wherein the customer is a victim. It’s an idiot who mistook the gas for the brake. So the customer was not right. Or if a customer wolfs down 10 pills, when the label clearly says not to take more than 1, the customer wasn’t right. The customer was an idiot who took too many pills. Or if the customer spills hot coffee on their lap and burns their leg, it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault for making the coffee too hot. The customer was not right. I could go on, but it seems self evident on its face that this attitude, while a positive-thinking feel-good aphorism, is useless as a business philosophy, much less any sort of description of the real world.

      Never mind that someone who doesn’t pay for an item isn’t a customer (no consideration was exchanged for the product – they aren’t a buyer). At best, they are a sampler of it. Maybe they become a customer at some point and buy something, but if they haven’t bought anything, they are a lot of things, but I wouldn’t call them a customer. That being said, as I just highlighted, customers are often wrong, and spectacularly and stupidly so. That’s not to denigrate peoples’ opinions, but rather to introduce some sanity into an inane paradigm wherein everyone’s opinion, no matter how uninformed, illiterate or dim, is somehow meritorious. When I went to school, back in the dark ages, if your work stank, you got an F. You didn’t get assured by the teacher that effort mattered, and that your effort was valid even if it didn’t conform to the curriculum’s rigorous mores. You failed, because you got it wrong. That’s how life works. You fail if you get it wrong.

      By way of other examples, I have gotten several one star reviews from “customers” who were disappointed that their free copy of The Delphi Chronicle, Book 1, wasn’t a complete novel with a tidy ending, but rather, was continued in book 2. This because they didn’t understand the term “serial” that was in the first sentence of the product description. Serial being a term for an installment in a story, not a series of stories. Like an episode of 24, not a Mission Impossible movie that is one of a series. The point is that the reader’s ignorance of the term “serial” – which accurately describes what they got, and is the only way to describe it – created their disappointment, and hence the low review. Now, one could take the stance that they were right, because they were ignorant of the word (or didn’t even read the product description), but how is that accurate? Answer: it isn’t. It encourages ignorance, and in fact celebrates it.

      Another book, my obvious parody of all things writing and self-publishing related (described as such in the first sentence of the product description lest the reader couldn’t figure it out from the title), How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), has gotten two slams because the readers didn’t realize it was a parody. Now, if you can get past glowing blurbs from famous, long-dead celebrities on the first page, and not realize this is humor, your reading comprehension ain’t what my target market is. And yet I got the slams – “This sucks. I expected a book that would tell me how to market ebooks, and this is terrible!” Really. I couldn’t make this up.

      I could go on, but you get the point – they didn’t like the book because they didn’t understand what it was, even though it was clearly labeled, and in fact obvious to anyone with above kindergarten reading comprehension. And yet “the customer is always right.” No, Virgina, Santa isn’t coming, and the customer is wrong in this case.

      For the record, I’m not against one or two or three star reviews. I’m against stupid reviews that are wrong, and provably so. Many of the free one star slams tend to be along those lines. Sorry. But they are.

      So while I can certainly grasp a rainbow world by a chocolate river where candy people live in harmony and are always right, and the world is completely subjective at all times, and there are no constants or knowable things, that doesn’t reflect reality. If a reviewer rates something one star, and gets the subject matter completely wrong, or doesn’t understand the writing because it’s not monosyllables, it’s not necessarily the writer’s fault (although it could be) – it’s the reader’s fault. Sort of like complaining that Nietzsche written in the original German is a one star effort because all the words were foreign to the reader who downloaded it free without reading the product description, or complaining that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a one star effort because the title was misleading and it didn’t tell the reader how to rebuild their pan-head engine, the customer in these examples is wrong.

      Perhaps a better philosophy might be, “Try to make customers happy and deliver outsized value” or “Exceed customer expectations whenever possible.” That I can sign up to.

      But just because someone can tap out a barely coherent string of letters and fall against the enter key, doesn’t make their take on anything right. Just as it doesn’t make a book good because someone was able to upload their unedited, incomprehensible screed to Amazon. Might as well just say, “All books are great” as say “All reviews are right.” Because then you’ve devolved into a swamp where words have no meaning, and making everyone feel good is more important than being accurate or truthful. I get enough of that from daytime TV at the gym, passing as wisdom from doctors who aren’t.

      Not that I have an opinion.

      • Stephen Parrish  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 12:34 am

        Hi Russell. My first time here. This comment response (that the customer isn’t always right) would make a wonderful blog post all its own.

        Thanks for all the insights. The KDP free days didn’t do anything for my second book, and $.99 isn’t doing anything for it either. Last year $.99 put my first book at the top of the Kindle mystery list—and drew one star reviews. By the time a promo truism goes viral it’s turned into a stale fad.

  9. Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 2:47 am

    Excellent post. Thank you. I also suffered the one star curse with my bestselling novel, Fresh Powder. This had to date mainly positive reviews-until its free run. It was one of my previously trad published novels from my back list, so professionally edited by my publisher. Very popular book, everyone loved it. The free run got me a staggering 42000 downloads. And a heap of nasty one star reviews. The usual big sales also took place for about a week after the free run with nearly 7000 sales during five days or so and the #22 spot in the overall paid chart.

    I’m not sorry I did the free run and have had if not the same success, very satisfying results with free runs of some of my other books without any nasty reviews. But I was astonished at the venom and anger heaped on Fresh Powder. It is still being slammed from time to time (probably when some of those free ‘customers’ start reading it). BUT it was also included in an Amazon hot deals promotion recently and sales rose again and new, better reviews started coming in. It is still my top seller of my nine books.

    I think that putting a book for free can still boost sales and get it noticed. But I see the point that free runs damage sales of other books, and that all these free offers affect sales right across the board for all authors.

    The trick is now to look out for the next marketing ploy that really works. Maybe one of them is commenting on high profile blogs? It might raise one’s profile…

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 9:21 am

      7000 sales! Wow! Look at you go. How are sales now? Did the big push create the famous long tail, or did it fade? Have you gone free with it again, and how did that work the second time? Let me know. Curious.

      • Susanne O'Leary  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 10:43 am

        Well, Russel, I would call it a long tail and it’s still selling well.

        Previously, last summer, Fresh Powder sold around 10000 in the UK at its usual price of $2.99 with no promotions at all. I had no idea why it did so well there at that time. I thought a book about being snowed into a chalet in the depth of winter would have no appeal in high summer but I was wrong. Maybe it had a cooling effect in the summer heat? Who knows?

        So when Select came along, I decided to see how it would do in the US, and… well, it did.

        I haven’t gone free with it again, as I didn’t think it would do as well, thinking it might have peaked. But maybe I should?

        And a comforting thought is that the bad reviews didn’t seem to affect sales much.

        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 12:11 pm

          I would do another free day promo, for a couple of days, 8 or 9 weeks out from the original – should be a whole new set of readers by then looking for material. Can’t hurt, and can only help. Congrats on the 10K – that’s a very respectable number for a single title in the UK, as you know.

          • Susanne O'Leary  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 12:40 pm

            Thanks, Russell, I think I will give it a whirl.

            Yes, I know those figures in the UK are amazing, especially last summer.

  10. Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 3:25 am

    I’ve done Select freebie days on most of my books, and gotten a few critical reviews, as well as a few out-of-the-blue positive ones, so it has mostly evened out. One of my books attracts more criticism, and I think it’s because I didn’t use the “expected” plot line and typical rom-com ending. Maybe it’s a downer ending to some. There are also issues of … well … I try to include a multi-cultural and diverse cast, and I always wonder if that’s the objectionable part people don’t name by name. Of course, I may be over-thinking it!

    I had almost zero sales before I did the Select promos, so it’s worked out well for me, despite the phenomenon you describe.

    I blame myself for writing an interesting book, or at least a compelling opening! I should put in some boring opening chapters so that only the most dedicated will forge ahead to get enraged by the ending!

    The freebie days are not as great as they were in December/January, that’s for sure.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 9:19 am

      I know what you mean by getting slammed because of not using the typical as an ending, sort of like in Amadeus – “You have to give them a bang at the end to let them know it’s finished!” I detest predictable endings, so most of my books eschew them, preferring to leave things to the imagination of the reader. Some like that, some feel like they got screwed. I have actually debated going back and fleshing out the endings to a few of my books so readers of all comprehension levels can get it, but then the books become cheapened, somehow – might as well make them graphic novels (comic books when I Was growing up) lest anyone be required to put 2 and 2 together or make leaps, or, dare I say it, think. I’ve also got hit because sometimes my protagonists or villains lack any meritorious qualities. My response is always sort of, “Really? You require every protag to follow a stereotypical mold, where he battles adversity while discovering something about himself and changing for the better, creating a textbook character arc every time?” I think many give lower reviews when you push them to accept something they aren’t comfortable with, or fail to reinforce their cherished beliefs, or don’t write the book the way THEY would have. It’s just all part of the game. But I do note that I get a lot more of these following free. Brings em out.

  11. Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 3:28 am

    Oh, wanted to add: it’s a scientific fact that people value something less if they don’t pay for it, even if they know the regular value is x. Therefore, if someone gets your book for free and gives it a 5 … that’s really a 6!! 🙂

  12. Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 8:32 am

    A thoughtful analysis, but let’s not pronounce ebook authors dead just yet. The technology has yet to fully saturate society. We are still in the early years of this trend, and, with more and more consumers making the switch to digital, you might be surprised how long things carry on.

    Then, once everyone has an e-reader, the multimedia books will come out and require completely new gadgets. Smart authors would keep up with that technology as it develops because the skill set will be completely different.

    Not to mention something like 85% of us want to be authors. We’ll see known names fade only to be replaced with new faces.

    There will be many cycles, each with its own crop of winners and losers.


    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 9:11 am

      Hope you’re right. Afraid I am. Somewhere between fear and hope lies reality. As always.

    • Lane Diamond  –  Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 9:02 am

      Michelle: “85% of us want to be authors.”

      Aye, there’s the rub. Some of us have to be consumers — readers. The marketplace will not support the massive flood of new authors. Most will langush.

      What would happen if 50,000 new auto dealerships opened up this year? How about 50,000 new tax consulting services? 50,000 new pharmacies? Would ALL, or even a fair percentage, of them be able to make money sufficient to remain in business?

      Why do authors think their business is different from any other, that we can somehow skirt the basic laws of economics? Supply is rapidly overwhelming demand, and that is never a good thing for the suppliers.

      • Russell Blake  –  Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 9:15 am

        The truth is that 99%+ of us will not make it. Even before this gold rush. That’s just the performing arts. Every garage has a band. Few get a record deal, and of the handful that do, only a fraction will actually sell enough to make money. And yet every kid picking up a guitar has a dream of standing on the arena stage.

        It’s always been a far better business to be selling guitars than to be the one buying them.

        Even if there was no deluge of new material, the odds are terrible. Now, even worse. That’s why in another very popular blog about 6 months ago I advised writers to write because they love it, not because they hope to make it. That holds true even more so now. Even in the trad pub world, where presumably experts have vetted the entrants – agents selecting only the best, and then publishers further taking only a fraction those pitched – something like 94% fail to sell enough to earn back their meager advances. That’s an abysmal batting average, and those are the pros. It’s got to be many orders of magnitude harder in indie.

        Then again, we as a species always want to believe that this time, or we, are different – just like all the other different people. When polled, 90-something percent of college students rated themselves above average, in spite of the logical impossibility of that being true. It’s the human condition. And occasionally, someone hits. People are lousy at understanding odds. That’s why casinos tout the Korean grocer who won $3 million on their billboards, or why the lottery is so popular. I have no expectation that will change any time soon.

        • Lane Diamond  –  Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 9:33 am

          Quite right. many authors thought that because it’s now so much easier for them to get their work out there, it would be easier for them to succeed. Uh… no.

          I remain convinced that writers have only one chance: Quality Catalog. Even then, it’s a gamble.

  13. Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 8:44 am

    I’ve found many of the things you said here to be true for myself. But I haven’t yet found another form of promotion that works as well as KDP on my worst day, so I’m hanging in there until something better comes along.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 9:10 am

      Oh, note that I first say that my life is far better for free. It has propelled me from obscurity to the point where most people have never heard of me, but where enough have to buy a book now and then. Sales since joining free are around twenty times what they were before free, so I can’t mewl like a bitch kitty over it. Much. Still, I look into the future, and I see free rapidly losing effectiveness, as well as negatives – I’m not saying not to do it, rather, saying that it has its ugly side, too.

  14. Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 9:17 am

    Good article and I agree with much of what you say. I have 17 titles and only 6 of them are enrolled in KDP Select. For 2 of them having free days gave them a substantial boost but for the rest it didn’t seem to do much. One of my titles had 11,000 downloads in 3 days but only a few sales when it went off free — it did get 3 new reviews, fortunately all positive.

    One of the things I’ve started noticing is some reviewers who seem to enjoy revealing plot points for suspense of mystery novels in their reviews. I’m having considerable problem with this with a suspense novella that I sell for .99. It is a short work and in the beginning it got a lot of 5 star reviews. So far it has sold close to 40,000 copies but in the last couple of weeks I’ve had 4 reviews that reveal the ending. I am finding this difficult to deal with. I really do not know why people do such things.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article.

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 9:27 am

      Well, I know why they do it. They suck. Some people live in their mom’s garage, or in a cold water government assisted housing project, and take their bitterness out by flexing their muscles where they have a voice – nobody listens to them in real life, but when they don their reviewer profile, they are a kind of god, able to create, or destroy. Mostly, they destroy, because they are miserable sh#tgrubs whose souls are dead and who hate anyone who is having a nice life, so they attack, and do so in the most damaging way. A review that contains a spoiler is usually going to be ugly, and is intended to be so.

      Amazon is no help. I’ve had a few of these, contacted them, explained in detail why the spoiler is in fact a spoiler, and they reply with an automated reply indicating that the spoiler review doesn’t violate their T’s and C’s. As if someone in Bangalore sat down and read your book to verify whether in fact the spoiler was a spoiler. As with so much else they do, some of their policies and responses are mercurial and inadequate, to say the least. Don’t even get me started on their accounting…

      • Kathleen Valentine  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 10:02 am

        I have to agree with you as to why they do it. In the pat Amazon has removed posts or marked them with a ***SPOILER ALERT*** but lately they have been less inclined to do so.

        It’s a sad commentary on the lives of the people who do that.

  15. Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Great blog Russell, as are the replies. Happily tweeted. As a newbie to kdp promos I was struggling to understand my little graphs of sales. Now it makes sense. I just wish I hadn’t delayed in using it. Looking forward to the next gimmick.

    I noted in one of the replies that somebody found greater sales on Smashwords. I never sold a copy there over months compared to hundreds on Kindle. Is there a trick to Smashwords?

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 12:56 pm

      If there is, I don’t know it.

      Glad you liked the blog. I think we’re all just trying to fumble our way through the dark on this, and it’s changing rapidly. So whatever wisdom I espouse (such as it is) today will be wrong or out of date by tomorrow. Such is life in indie publishing these days.

      I note that sales in the UK continue to build for me, which is heartening. My biggest seller by far is my most expensive – King of Swords. Odd, that.

      • Miles Allen  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 1:00 pm

        Haha, well there’s balance for you. 80% of my eBook sales are in the US. Go figure.

  16. yoon
    Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 1:48 pm

    No puppies or kitties. Again. But I forgive you. Again. Because this post is chock full of funny. I like funny, including that “customer is always right” comment and those amazon reviews of Gazillion (I just read those reviews. Hilarious! And one of the reviewers’ moniker is “SmartChick!”). Now I might have acquired another time-suck hobby – reading 1-star reviews on amazon. How am I going to find time to read books now?

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 2:30 pm

      I hope my angry bitterness shines through the funny. I’d hate to think my irascible facade is slipping. Puppies and kitties are on the way, though. Soon. Really soon. Until then, I’ll work on offending the few readers I have left.

      The one star review hobby is a good one. Play “count the typos” or “spot the angry writer who only posts one star reviews.” You should be entertained for hours! SmartChick indeed.

  17. yoonamania
    Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 8:05 pm

    I’m afraid I don’t know how to play “spot the angry writer…” Teach me the rules?

    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 27th Apr 2012 at 8:15 pm

      Look for 1000 word one or two star reviews breaking down how a book sucks, from character development, to style, to pacing, grammar, etc. Extra points for spotting gratuitously florid prose in the review. Nobody but an angry, frustrated writer will spend 1000 words on what most would review with, “Avoid this, it’s pure crap,” or more likely, would simply delete from their kindles before moving on. If you want to bait them and get interactive, you can always chime in with something like, “What, did Daddy not go to your ballet classes when you were a kid?” That’s always guaranteed to start a spirited exchange. Never a dull moment. I’m just trying to help, here…

  18. Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 12:31 am

    I had some success with the whole free book thing, but I’ve gotten away from it. And any promo, really. Probably ought to get better about that. And/or write more books =P

    Anywho. One star reviews. Right. Many folks dread them but I’ll be interested to see when I finally get one. I think they give you street cred. They let potential readers know that your mom, aunt, uncles, cousins, etc are not the only ones reviewing your material.

    If anything, the 5 star reviews that writers crave probably do more to actually turn readers away, as folks will see an astronomical number of reviews singing the author’s praises and think that he/she just gave away copies of their book to their extended family. A few low reviews build character (always a good thing for an author to remember that some folks despise them) and serve to balance out all the glowing, flowery reviews heaped upon a work. It’s a balance thing.

  19. Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 5:41 am

    I gave away about 7800 copies of ‘The Handbag’s Tale,’ which earned a couple of nice four=star reviews by readers who clearly knew what they were talking about, and a few one-star slags. In some ways I blamed myself. The book was not clearly labeled ‘short story,’ and although it was free, that was my mistake. As for the reviewer claiming to agree with the person before them, and then contradicting everything they said, they pretty much slagged their own reputation with that one. But it is the risk we take. But now that everyone is doing the free promotion, it is definitely less effective.

  20. shawn
    Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 9:34 am

    Hey, Russell
    Great blog. Haha…I had a one star review from a free day where the reviewer labeled the review “a waste of money.” As you said, judging from her review and her other reviews, she didn’t read the book and must have only read the product description (which seemed to be what she then based her review on) after downloading it.

    I’m having my best success right now in the wake of a 24000 select promo. However, this book had a 4.9 star avg going into it. My other novel, thanks to the aforementioned reviewer, only had a 3 star rating going into the second round of its select days and only sold 400 copies.

    What’s even more frustrating than those venomous reviews that really serve no point as far as actually offering an objective review for other would-be customers are those people that actually vote those reviews as being helpful!

    I don’t get it.

  21. Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 10:47 am

    The customer is always right, even when it is not a customer. By my armchair estimates, I get one one-star for every 3,000 sales.

    So give me one million one-stars please. I will take that ratio all day long.

    In five years, none of this will matter at all. None of it.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 6:40 pm

      Well, we agree on the final point. As well as on the second. As to the third, if it isn’t a customer, then it’s “The reader is always right,” which we must disagree on, especially when they are provably wrong. But hey, two out of three ain’t bad.

      I see around the same ratio, so I’ll take one million on stars too…

  22. Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 11:10 am

    Love the blog, love the comments. What a huge relief to read intelligent comments and discussion that don’t become corrupted by a flurry of name-calling, party-bashing hatred.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 6:41 pm

      Damn. I forgot to include the party-bashing name calling hatred this post. Will make up for it on the next one. Grrr.

  23. Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Great post. Thanks a lot, Russell.

    My experience with KDP Select free promos: got lots of sales after my first round of free in February but rode on the coattails of an author with lots of books. And got the one-star horror which I think actually gave my book more bounce.

    But after the second round of free (March 17), the bounce was a barely visible blip. And I’m not sure if anyone downloading free books actually reads them, so there’s very little word of mouth, especially if it’s true that Amazon’s algorithms have changed.

    Oh well whats a mother to do: write for readers, write more, edit lots, re-edit, publish often, read posts like this.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 6:42 pm

      The algorithms changing would explain much. As to reading the books they download, my guess is fewer than 5% do. That’s purely gut feel…

  24. Blaine Reimer
    Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Well after reading this post and scanning these comments, I feel like I’ve had a pretty good ride since my KDP promo for Love is a Wounded Soldier. It ended not quite a week ago, and since then I’ve received 24 new reviews, all 5 star. I gave away not quite 22k in two days.
    In the days following the promo I rose from about 36,000 in the rankings to a high of 589. On the morning of the fourth day it started dropping steadily, and we now sit just above 2000, and it’ll probably continue to slide. Yesterday I told my wife that after the next promo we would knock our price down to $.99 instead of $3.99 and try to ride the wave up before raising the price again. But I had something of an epiphany last night, when I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and saw I had an email from The Indie View. I figured, they’re right, why the fiddly would Amazon want my $.99 masterpiece at #1 when E.L. James is dominating on top (I couldn’t resist) with her $9.99 threesome, er, trilogy? And let’s face it, selling your books out of the bargain bin just screams poor quality, even to me, who shouldn’t be biased. So, I tells the wife, says I, “Wife, we’re gonna jack this bitch up next time around. Hell, let’s do it now!”
    So I raised the price, just like that, to $6.99. Don’t know yet if it’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever done or a stroke of genius. I’ll know in a few days. All I know is I’ve actually sold a few at that price today, even raised my rank a hair this afternoon.
    I also don’t think it helps that before my promo I was listed with some big name authors in the “also bought” list, and afterward, I’m just listed with all the other freebie crap that was downloaded by people who downloaded my book. That’s not good for the image, either. I also checked up on a few other books that ranked up with mine during the free run, and noticed that most of them have also experienced a significant decrease in rank.
    I don’t know if Amazon’s tweaking to the algorithms or whatever they’ve done is a bad thing. The cream will rise to the top eventually, it’ll just take a little longer, and those who make it will have made it honestly. Mostly.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 6:59 pm

      What happens is that about day 4 paid, you get pushed off the lists by the books that were hot freebies after you went paid again. So day 4, whatever was hot on your first paid day bumps you to the second page, and then day 5 whatever was hot for free on your second paid day bumps you further, until you stop experiencing the boost.

      Let me know how the $6.99 thing works for you. I am genuinely curious, as that is the pricing I was planning for my next few books – either that, or $5.99. E-mail me if you like.

  25. Sat 28th Apr 2012 at 10:07 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who has gotten the worst reviews from freebies. I love the reviews that run along the lines of “this book was free but my time isn’t.” Why these people waste even more time by complaining is beyond me.
    Thanks for the awesome post. I agree, I think the new will wear off free.

  26. Another Anon
    Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 6:18 am

    Name one successful merchant, brand or artist that has ever built a customer base through free offerings. Building an audience is more than throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. That’s what KDP select does. Another thing, KDP locks your content and brand up for exclusivity to Amazon is the one that wins since they in essence get “first rights” to exclusive content. An author is better off giving away their book through their own website or as a promo for a website/product that has a desirable customer profile. Getting the RIGHT people to trial a product is KEY.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 9:07 am

      Well, the narcotics business, one of the largest in the country, has used “first time’s for free” very successfully. Most big brands do giveaways at stores like Costco for broader exposure. Agreed that Amazon is a shotgun approach, but for me the rewards (10X greater sales) has been worth the negatives, which I don’t sugar coat. Yes, they get exclusive content. Yes, that gives them an advantage over their competitors, who will mostly be out of business or meaningless to any discussion within two years. But that just is what it is. I keep in the program because I still see a sales bump. When I don’t, I will be out. Simple business decision. But one that has me selling 10K or more paid copies a month. So not such a bad one, thus far.

  27. Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 6:54 am

    Oh, happy day! Today is my book’s last day on Kindle Select! Huzzah!

    The program has strangled sales on all my books. My free book did indeed receive those low-star reviews that aren’t true reviews because the “reviewer” only read the first few chapter. I never saw the rush of sales of my other books as the result of making one book free. Obviously the people who grabbed my free book weren’t my target audience.

    Adios, Kindle Select!

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 9:08 am

      Many have reported less than stellar experiences with Select. Sorry it didn’t work for you. It’s not a magic bullet, for sure, and like everything, mileage may vary.

  28. Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 9:38 am

    There is another way to attract one-star reviews besides a “free” promotion of our work.

    Get into a debate over a hot topic on an Amazon forum for another book and if you disagree with the loudest critics, they will turn on you. Also do not reply to them.

    Last year, I took on some of Amy Chua’s critics (of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” infamy) and what I call the one-star virus invaded my first novel (My Splendid Concubine) on Amazon.

    For example, in 2008, the first year in release, Concubine earned nothing but positive reviews from all sources–picking up honorable mentions in lit contests, etc.

    In 2009, the positive reviews and honorable mentions continued. There was one fair mixed review giving the novel 2.5 stars out of 5 due to the excessive sex and the reviewer was clear in saying the sex was the only reason she gave the book 2.5 stars.

    In addition, in April 2009, a Writer’s Digest judge rated the novel 5 of 5 on the WD self published lit contest’s rubric critique.

    The first one-star review (the sort you describe in your post) arrived in May of 2009 alongside an honorable mention in fiction from the 2009 San Francisco Book Festival. In the first two years of release, this was the first and only one-star review.

    2010 was mostly a good year for reviews until December when two one-star reviews arrived along with the novel being named a Finalist in Fiction & Literature for The National “Best Books 2010” Awards. My mistake was resonding to the first Troll that left a one-star review that year. By responding, that attracted maybe two or three more.

    Then 2011 arrived and I posted a five-star review of Amy Chua’s book on Amazon, ended up in a heated debate with a host of Internet Trolls and others (I hope I learned my lesson) and the one and two-star reviews started to arrive–I haven’t updated the page that shows all the reviews but will do so before the end of 2012–all from anonymous Amazon reviewers claiming the book was a mess grammatically and just about every possible insult one could think of.

    I’m sure that if those one-star reviews had arrived in 2008 before the honorable mentions in fiction from lit contests and the finalist position that arrived in 2010 in addition to the positive critiques from WD, that would have sunk my novel. However, the number of positive reviews outweighs the negative–at least for now.

    Since then, I’ve made it a study to understand the minds of Internet Trolls that write most of these one-star reviews.

  29. Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Great post! This is a conversation that so many of us are having, but so few are willing to be open about.

    I’m currently fumbling along trying to figure out how to get people to notice that I even exist. But, I believe in valuing my own work . KDP Select as a concept is fine with me. At least Amazon is paying you something for the “lend.” I chose not to participate in the program because the few other writers I know (who are willing to talk about their sales) have not had the hoped for success or sustained bump in sales.

    As for giving away a book to attract buyers for their other books – it worked well in the past, but now my friends are not seeing the sales to support that particular strategy either.

    Free hurts everyone in the long run. It’s a very old saying, but the truth is still there – Why buy a cow when you can get the milk for free.

    As to the reviews – I’m just starting. My first book Protecting Parker has 4 (unsolicited) good reviews by readers. My other two have one each. I thought about Select or doing a give away in hopes of generating some interest and garnering some reviews. But the reality is there doesn’t seem to be much return on that strategy. I’ve talked to authors who have received no reviews from the 1500-2500 downloads. I have to admit that I’m not sure what would be worse – a bad review by an idiot or simply being ignored.

    As a complete unknown with no advertising, I have no illusions or unreasonable expectations about my book sales. But I’d rather have the few sales and honest reviews I’ve earned, then win the race to the bottom that so many authors can’t wait to participate in.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 4:43 pm

      Like I said, free has worked for some, and hasn’t worked for others. No question that it boosted anyone participating in Dec and January. Feb and March, not so much. April, getting softer. Consensus a few months ago was that it would over for free by June. That looks about right. Why give away books and weaken your brand if you aren’t seeing a boost in sales to make that worthwhile? Answer: you wouldn’t. I won’t. Already, I’m slowly pulling titles as they wind down. And some of my titles that are in the program, I’m not planning to run free again. Just running out the clock.

      Having said that, I definitely benefited from free. But as with everything, that was then. What have you done for me lately?

      Now back to marketing and selling books the old fashioned way. Whatever that is.

  30. Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 4:53 pm

    As a writer, editor, and reviewer I am sent books that could have used a good proofreader before it got into the hands of readers.

    This article speaks to what I’ve heard many different authors say about price. I believe some books are overpriced, while others are under priced. If the authors sets the price for download, they should set a price that makes them comfortable.

    Traditional publishers used to set the price, but traditional publishers aren’t doing many things they used to like promotion, marketing, editing, and proofreading and are leaving it up to the author to do much of these.

    The final product and price is up to the author.

  31. Mon 30th Apr 2012 at 10:37 pm

    Another negative I’ve seen (and I haven’t offered my books free through KDP Select yet) is that readers now expect authors to list their books for free. I see the search term “Amelia James free ebooks”, or some variation of it, pop up on my blog stats at least once a week. It makes me wonder if they buy books at all if they can’t find them for free.

  32. Tue 01st May 2012 at 11:36 am

    You are correct as usual. I’ve not offered my novel for free, but I’ve given away free copies to companies that “send them out” for reviews. I had one of these reviewers give me a 3 star because she didn’t “grow up in America” so she couldn’t relate to the setting. Agghh! I’ve also had lots of friends who received low reviews after freebies, just like you said. And I agree with Amelia James that lots of readers now expect FREE. That hurts.

  33. Tue 01st May 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I like you, Russell. You’re smart. Now I’m going to have to follow your blog, and check out your books… this damned Indie movement has consumed far too much of my i-should-be-writing time, I tell ya! 🙂

    My experience with “free” with KDP has been similar. And since the “select” freebies aren’t getting the punch they used to, I decided to run an experiment and offer a few permanent freebies instead. I made them free on Smashwords, hit “distribute” through all the channels, and waited for amazon to price match.

    I have almost 100 titles available, so making a few permanently free seemed like a good gamble.

    It took a few months. But now my “Taken” has been in the Amazon top 100 free for over a month. And it’s sat at the #1 spot in erotica for that long. My sales to other titles have increased significantly on Amazon as a result. I have books that were in the 5-10K range that have moved up to the 2-4K range. A nice bump in sales that I’m pretty sure I can contribute to the freebie.

    My latest freebie (Connections) is shorter, more romance, less sex, so it probably won’t do as well as an erotica freebie, but I’m hoping to draw in more erotic romance readers with that one. It’s sitting at #180 free overall and #7 on the erotica list.

    Now, how long will this experiment work? I don’t know. Will there be an infinite new amount of Kindle readers to discover my freebie? Maybe. Depends on how fast Amazon can sell Kindles! For now, it’s working. I’ll take that.

    But I’m already collecting those “one-star” reviews. They’re definitely a real thing. Some are warranted (I wanted more sex! I wanted a happy ever after! wahhh!) but it comes with the territory. I never expect to keep a five-star monopoly on any of my books. I don’t trust books without a few bad reviews, frankly. So I just look at them as battle scars. 😉


    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 01st May 2012 at 4:32 pm

      I wish you nothing but success. Wow – 100 titles! Make me look like a piker. Which I suppose I am.

      I’ve seen four types of one star reviews. What I call the drive by mouthbreather, who just didn’t get it and doesn’t realize that everyone else does. Love that, BTW. The second is the frustrated writer, who spends 1000 words describing how sub-par your work is. The third is just the angry, venomous hate review – usually from an ID that has never reviewed another book. I have also gotten a few who either hate one of my conspiracies (it offends their beliefs) or think I’m a godless heathen, or a similarly philosophically-driven dislike for me that has nothing to do with the book or how well it’s written. Those will always happen – nobody agrees on everything.

      Those are the four broad categories, although there are surely others. I just sort of stopped paying attention a bit ago, figuring that my time is better spent writing another book that stewing over someone’s personality disorder. Enough folks seem to like my books that the odd 1 star isn’t affecting anything.

      I have been guilty of responding to those that just plain miss the point, more in the interests of clarifying for other readers why the objection is provably, objectively invalid than any other reason, but gave that up a bit ago because most of my readers are smart enough to read between the lines. If they aren’t, they won’t be my readers for long.

  34. Tue 01st May 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I just started experimenting with Select and free. I’m late to the game…I spent the last few months freaking out about my tanking sales and eyeing Select with infuriated envy. LOL. After one week doing promos, I’m ecstatic! I hope you’re wrong about the good sales effects lasting only four days. So far I’ve been hovering on the same page of Hot New Releases Erotica for four days. But if it doesn’t last, I’ll write a short story once or twice a month, just for Select, and put the rest of my stories at all retail outlets.

    As for the guy who got the “7% of the population” review…ROFL. I contend that the reviewer cannot possibly be part of the upper 7% of the population for intelligence…if he was, he wouldn’t be so pissed off about having to look up the ONE word he didn’t know. Instead, he’d be thrilled to have learned a new word, in a world where it’s rare for an intelligent person to read genre fiction and see an unusual word, EVER.

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 01st May 2012 at 4:22 pm

      There is nothing I would rather be more wrong about, Giselle. Alas, all good things come to an end, and the free effect is usually good for 4-5 days, and then a long “tail” that bottoms around week three. Well documented. So I would start writing those short stories…

  35. Wed 02nd May 2012 at 12:30 am

    Great information — go Gladiators — since I am so close to hitting that publishing button, possibly as soon as next week. Giving away the book for free has always left me with whiplash. And now, after reading your post, my neck is really hurting. Even going with .99 adds a bit of nausea. But that’s the writer talking and I’m far from having a head for good business. Anyway, I enjoyed the post and it’s given me a lot to think about. And that’s always a good thing. Hope all is well with you and the mutts. Kipling is 100% after spaying surgery and almost ready for her Lobo Wall close-up. Oh, I also just released the nifty Book Trailer yesterday on my own blog if you want to see a different kind of beach scene. Best to you and yours. JBog

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 02nd May 2012 at 1:09 am

      All is well. Can’t wait to see Kipling’s pin up shots.

      Great trailer.

      Still and all, I have to say that sales are about 17X what they were pre-free, so on balance, hard to bitch. Which won’t stop me, of course. Waahhhh. I’d do a few free days to launch it. Really can’t hurt.

  36. Wed 02nd May 2012 at 7:58 am

    I’m almost always late to Russell’s party, but let me throw an even darker side out there. Something Russell and I have discussed over the past few days. We’ve all seen the diminishing effect of free promotions…this was expected, however, my last free stint for both of my books have brought sales to a near grinding halt. I have heard that sales were “off” for many indie authors throughout April and initially wrote this off as part of that phenomena, but I think there’s more to it.

    My sales rose slightly after the free promotion (which was a lackluster performance compared to my last free run) and then dropped nearly 80%. I left for a two week vacation at the same time. One thing I noticed before leaving…and continued to notice while on vacation…was that my “also boughts” never reverted to any semblance of what I had seen in the past.

    Three weeks later, I’m seeing the same jumble of unrelated genres. YA Romance, Victorian Era fiction, mermaid fantasies. I can’t seem to shake these unrelated genre titles. My books fall squarely in the techno-thriller/horror genre, and it was common to see a slight mess of titles after a free promotion…but they were typically thrillers or suspense titles.

    To me, this is the most disturbing aspect of “free,” and one that will prevent me from utilizing the promotion again. Has anyone else seen this phenomena?

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 02nd May 2012 at 9:39 am

      Simon Royle had a similar complaint the other day – all of his also boughts reverted to whatever they had been in January. I haven’t noticed anything on mine, but on a further note, I have noticed another effect many authors dismiss or deny – loans cannibalizing sales.

      On Day 1 of the month, loans will swell to double/triple the clip of my normal daily runrate, and my sales will dip by roughly that number. UK sales, which aren’t eligible for the KDP Select loan program, stay constant. Day 2, loans slow, and sales recover. By day 3 or 4, things are back to normal.

      From this I conclude a few things. First, folks are waiting till their 1 book they can borrow per month comes up and using it to borrow a book that they would otherwise have to pay $5 for – so it’s not “sales I otherwise wouldn’t have had” or “exposure to new readers.” It’s pretty clearly zero sum. Which means for more expensive titles, each loan represents a net reduction in the proceeds of $1 or more. Not the end of the world, but something that must be factored in.

      Sorry to hear about the effect Select had on you. I recall Black Flagged was solidly in the #1250 ranking for months, and Jakarta not much far behind it. I can’t think of a single reason for the also boughts changing on you like that, but I can see where it would take you off the radar of many buyers in your genre. Sucks.

  37. Wed 02nd May 2012 at 11:42 am

    I absolutely agree with you. It kills me to read a bad review when it’s obvious that the book was never even read. Most are very generic, I’ll call them form reviews because I see the same ones over and over.

    I picked up an ebook for free and the formatting was horrible. Either the author doesn’t have the basic formatting skills or doesn’t want to pay somebody. Now she has two bad reviews. They babbled on it was badly edited, but what it really was badly formatted. I couldn’t even read the book. I contacted the author, still no changes were made. This book made it to #13 for free ebooks. As a writer myself, this would kill me! Seriously!

    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 02nd May 2012 at 4:33 pm

      It does make me wonder about the form reviews. Why leave them? I mean, what’s the point? Almost like someone has an agenda to slam indie authors, as invariably they are left on indie books.

  38. sherry
    Wed 02nd May 2012 at 11:54 am

    Hi – Reader and someone who trolls for free books here. I really enjoyed reading this post and the comments; much that I had never considered.

    I don’t put much stock in the random one-star reviews, generally you can tell the person didn’t get it or has a ax to grind. They are especially obvious when they are so out-numbered by the better reviews.

    I totally agree that “free” glory days are numbered. When I first got my Kindle it found lots of ways to get free books, checked every day and bought a few. But as my unread list gets longer I’ve become more discriminating. Some days I delete the emails unread.

    I’m guessing you will see signs of life in the free program after Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas when you get a whole new crop of Kindle owners.

  39. Thu 03rd May 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Your post got me thinking about 1-star reviews and 5-star reviews, and I responded at length


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