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10,000 copies of Coffin Dodgers

Somebody bought the 10,000th copy of Coffin Dodgers last night, and I thought I’d provide a breakdown of the numbers for those of you interested in the whole self-publishing thing. As you’ll see from the figures, it’s clear that giving copies away for free is a brilliant marketing strategy, except when it isn’t, and that it works exceptionally well, except when it doesn’t.

Freebies and paid-for sales

When I made the book free for 24 hours earlier this month, 2,671 people downloaded it from Amazon UK. Since the end of the freebie day two weeks ago I’ve sold a further 3,758 books in the UK. That’s around 270 books per day.

The book went top forty in the general fiction chart, number 1 in technothrillers and reached number one in the humour chart. It stayed at the top of the humour chart for a week and a bit, although it was deposed a few days ago and now sits at number 2. Damn you, Sophie Kinsella!

I got some nice reviews too, although bafflingly one of them is a cut and paste of Ronnie Brown’s existing review. No offence to Ronnie, but I don’t understand why somebody would do that.

It also made my mum very proud: she scans the Mail on Sunday’s ebook chart every week to see if I’m in it, despite my pointing out that you need to sell quite a lot of books to make the UK top ten. Last week I was in there at number seven. I don’t think she’s finished calling everybody on earth to tell them yet.

Going free was a big deal in the UK. What about the US? On Amazon US, 845 people downloaded freebies; I’ve since sold a further 75. That’s around 5 books per day. It cracked the US technothriller top 100 – I think it reached the mid-fifties – but didn’t stay there for very long. Oh, and 6 Amazon Prime users borrowed it too.

Going free works, except when it doesn’t

It’s fairly obvious that the freebie day worked really well on Amazon UK and didn’t do squat in the US. I think that’s mainly because the UK audience is smaller, so it’s easier to get a bit of attention. But I also think I was lucky, and that Coffin Dodgers is priced correctly for a market that’s very, very price sensitive.

When it became obvious that Coffin Dodgers was doing interesting numbers, a few people suggested I up the price to capitalise on the sudden interest. I decided against it on the grounds that I’m more interested in maintaining momentum and getting the book to new readers. Also, whenever I’ve upped the price in the past sales died on their arse. I think I made the right choice; I know of other authors with well-publicised freebie days who charge more than I do for their books and found sales nose-dived as soon as the free day or days ended.

I won’t know for sure whether my plan is going to pay off until I release the sequel. I’m hoping at least some of the people who’ve bought Coffin Dodgers will stay with me for book number 2, but they may well have forgotten all about me by then.

It’s clear that going free – in some cases at least – can give you a sales bump, but I do wonder if it’s repeatable: if people think you’re going to go free again in a few weeks (Amazon’s KDP Select lets you go free for up to 5 days in any 90-day period), why should they pay any money for your book? Even if that doesn’t put people off, I think the law of diminishing returns will apply here: when I made CD free, lots of people retweeted my Twitter posts, posted on Facebook and so on. The more often you do the freebie thing, the less of that kind of attention you’re likely to get.

Other outlets

One of the annoying things about going free on Amazon is that to do so, you have to make your book exclusive for 90 days – so CD is currently unavailable in the iBookstore, Kobo store and so on. I’m not sure whether to resurrect the non-Amazon outlets once the 90-day period ends, as Smashwords (the aggregator I use to publish to those places) is a pain in the arse to use. Prior to the Amazon freebie, sales from those outlets were insignificant compared to Amazon: for every 1,000 books sold on Amazon, I did 4 on all other services combined.

I’ve also found that there are plenty of ebook refuseniks out there, people who can’t or won’t read books on screens. I’m messing around with print on demand at Lulu.com so I can get books to those people too, but it’s not something you can make money doing unless you want to charge a fortune: you’re looking at about six quid for a paperback (plus postage), and that gives you a margin of about 30p per book.

On the subject of margins, I’ll get about 34p per book for all the Kindle sales, less 30% which Amazon has to withhold until the IRS gives me the appropriate taxpayer identification numbers. It isn’t a living just yet, but it’s more or less covering the bar bill as I write the sequel. I think the book will start to lose momentum as it falls down the charts – it’s number 65 at the moment, although it’s been bouncing around between the late forties and early sixties for a couple of days – but hitting the 10K is nice encouragement to have when you’re bashing away on the next book.

If there’s anything else you’d like to know, give me a shout in the comments.