On any given day, I see these three questions repeated in (at least) 15 places on the internet:
- Should I use permafree?
- Should I price at 99 cents?
- Should I put my books in KU?
Plenty of people have answers, and offer them, and many of the answers are smart and some of them are nuanced and smart and some of the very smartest ones are brilliant but dangerous. Not because they’re not useful, but because people can leap on them and use them without understanding what parts are working and why, which will give them a false sense of confidence that is going to sting later on when the market shifts. (Believe me. I’ve felt the sting.)
I have one answer, and it’s a question:
Why do you want to?
That’s not meant to be a judgement. It’s also not meant to imply why on earth would you do that because I do all three, in certain circumstances, for different reasons, under multiple pennames, with varying results.
But you need to be able to answer. You need to know exactly why you want to, and what you hope to accomplish, and how you’re planning to make that happen. If you don’t, you might still get lucky. Plenty of people do. But waaaaaaaay more people don’t.
Here is a (very incomplete) list of questions I ask people who come to me:
Sure, loss-leaders don’t have the OOMPH they carried even a few years ago. I remember having a free read back in the days before KDP, when there were almost no free books on Amazon. There was little competition. A free book was novel. It made my career for about 16 months. (Not even kidding. That was one beautiful promotion.) But even then, it was a concern–it happened the week after Amazon split the bestseller lists into Paid and Free. Before that, I would have been #1 in the Kindle store. Did we have the same visibility as #1 in the free store? Probably not.
So freebies lack a little oomph today, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still work. But you need to know the answers to questions:
- How are you going to get visibility? (Promotions? Ads? Help from friends?)
- Are you putting your best foot forward? (What good will any of this do if they DNF on page 2 because it’s an unedited trunk book?)
- Are you doing this for exposure? What is your plan to keep these people. Have you got your backmatter optimized for newsletter conversions?
- Are you doing this for money? What is your plan to funnel people into your other works? (It’s 10000x easier if it’s book #1 in a series.)
So, 99 cent reads are just math to me. Personally, they’re not my favorite math–I don’t sell well enough to make up for the royalty hit, most of the time, though the 99 cent price point can be super useful for price pulsing or for loss leaders. Of course, KU has changed that dynamic a great deal, but not everyone wants to go exclusive on Amazon. So I’ll deal with the non-KU example first.
Questions I ask myself when I have a book at 99 cents:
- How many copies would I need to sell at $2.99 to match this income. (You can safely assume 1:5 as a ratio…if you’re selling 500 copies a day at 99 cents, you’d need to sell 100 at $2.99. If you’re selling 50, you’d need to sell 10 at $2.99. It’s actually close to 1:6, but delivery fees vary, etc.)
- Are you using this for a sale/loss leader/funnel? Is everything set up to send people where you want them to go next?
- Should you put this in KU?
KU is kind of evil. And brilliant. Right now, it’s a lightning rod for Think Pieces ™ on the downfall of publishing, writers, and everything else in the world.
The morality of KU is something you’ll have to grapple with on your own. The math is a bit simpler.
Rank: Amazon counts every borrow through KU toward a book’s rank, whether the book is ever opened or not. This results in a great deal of invisible movement on your rank, which has resulted in a lot of people thinking that KU books are given preferential treatment.
Which they’re not…technically. But they are getting the benefit of a lot of consequence-free one-clicking (because it doesn’t cost a KU subscriber anything to click, and they can always return the book) and that is an advantage in visibility.
Borrows: Borrows are a mystery. You could make $2 for them. (Probably not likely anymore.) You could make $1 for them. (Let’s hope that’s not the case this month.) It’s a gamble, the biggest gamble yet for gamble-prone self-pubbers.
The math: right now, a borrow on a 99 cent book is much higher than the 35 cent royalty. If you’re someone who writes short, or prices at 99 cents for a variety of other reasons, KU could really work for you. You get the rank boost of borrows, plus the read-to-10% borrow rate. If you’re in a genre that likes serials, you can write them now and make decent money. The reader gets a good deal. You get a good deal.
Amazon…doesn’t get a good deal. Which is why I wouldn’t be putting all my eggs in that basket any time soon. But no one said you have to pursue long-term tactics all the time. Jump on the waves and ride them, as long as you’re keeping your long-term strategy in mind.
The bottom line:
Do whatever works for you. What worked for me today, as Moira Rogers, might not work for me today as Kit Rocha. Or tomorrow as Moira Rogers. Don’t stress out trying to figure out which plan Works the Best. Because the answer is: none of them for everyone all the time.
Do what works for you. Today. And for the love of God, try to figure out why it’s working. And when it stops working (and it will stop working) try to figure out why that happened, too. And each time you have to adapt, you’ll do it with less hesitation and more confidence, because you’re not just seeking out someone who can tell you The Plan. You’re building your own, customized to your goals and needs, and believe me. That will work better than anything you take from someone else’s career.