Friday, April 25, 2014

A WILD RIDE: TEST-DRIVING A FREE E-BOOK ON AMAZON

I've been eager to test-drive a free ebook on Amazon since 2010, especially as I write nonfiction for small markets. I see colleagues having success with fiction, but doubted how freebies would work with niche markets for the older demographic.

Over Easter weekend, I gave it a try with the second edition of one of my Canadian submarine histories — Deeply Canadian: New Submarines for a New Millennium. I offered my giveaway as an e-book for three days to celebrate the Canadian submarine service's centenary this year.

Some context is important to understand the results I achieved. Deeply Canadian was published in 2000 in print and electronic versions. I was dissatisfied with the image quality in the paperback and the ebook failed to sell more than a few copies back then because it was well before the digital book explosion that began in 2008. So when the e-rights reverted to me a couple of years ago, I decided to re-release an updated, centennial, digital edition only in 2014 with many more images and with the older ones restored. Additionally, my first submarine history, Through a Canadian Periscope, was also released by a traditional publisher in print and all digital formats seven weeks before Deeply Canadian. I was hoping any enthusiasm with the free offer would carry over to this title that will not be offered free.

In preparation for the big day, I planned a serious effort with social media. Over a year ago, I began the assault on Twitter, set up a book page on Facebook, and really cranked up my involvement on both. My aim was to find my potential readers online and converse. I made sure the campaign had a global reach, not just Canadian. I also engaged significantly on others' FB biz pages and followed Twitter accounts that focused on naval history and submarines, chatting mostly and posting images. I hardly mentioned my books on any of these platforms until a week before Deeply Canadian's sale began.

Well, the giveaway turned out to be a wild ride and I'm still breathless.

Here are the results two days after the offer ended:


  • Three hundred copies of Deeply Canadian were downloaded, 250 more than I expected.  
  • Emails have poured in with praise.
  • FB comments were numerous.
  • I've never had so many retweets for a book on Twitter.
  • There was a small run on the print version too.
  • It's clear that naval history buffs and naval personnel love their tablets, which have such great resolution for images and that I recommended for this book. 
  • I was hoping for lots of reviews, but I don't think this demographic with their background understands the need for them. Despite all the emails praising the book, I have only two reviews to date, but both five stars. 
  • For five days, Deeply Canadian ranked the #1 naval history book on Amazon; it's down to #50 now, but that's way higher than before.

    And now for the unexpected spin-offs:
  • Two newspapers want to interview me and do features on the Canadian submarine centenary.
  • I have been asked to give two presentations on "Celebrating Canadian Submariners." (I want more!)
    Deeply Canadian on a tablet
  • CBC agreed to let me use one of their images. Unheard of!!!
  • Naval commentators and broadcasters from Canada and the UK are now retweeting me and asking questions. 
  • Dozens of readers discovered the free Kindle app from Amazon after asking me how they could read Deeply Canadian without a Kindle. After I told them, they came right back and told me how wonderful it turned out to be. (I quickly began to explain this in my marketing posts.)

  • At this stage of the experiment, I feel it has been a success, mainly due to the spin-offs, which will increase the sales of both submarine titles, in print and electronic versions. The one downer turned out to be the apparent lack of response by archives and museums, whom I did anticipate would at least take a look at the free ebook in case they wanted to purchase the paperback.

    Would I consider doing this again for my "very" niche nonfiction?
    Without a doubt!

    Would I recommend giveaways for niche nonfiction?
    Definitely, but only for nonfiction authors who are adept at social media and have been targeting and building their online presence for a minimum of a year or already have a big following.