I’ve published a new short story called “Complications”. It was inspired by Machine of Death and I obtained the explicit permission of the editors of that fine volume before making it available. It’s free on Smashwords or 99c on Kindle.
Its publication is a quiet experiment and I’m letting you in on the secret as a way to say thanks for paying any attention to this at all. So, thank you!
Now, to explain the experiment:
I’ve had an absolutely burning curiosity regarding free short stories as a way to get my name in front of people. The conventional wisdom within the various self-publishing authors in my various circles on G+ and writing elsewhere online is that free stories are a way to connect with readers who would otherwise never try your work and instead would remain entirely unavailable. On the other hand, there are writers who criticize giveaways and free short stories as diluting the ebook market. That argument usually contends these promotional tactics give readers no reason ever to pay for anything.
Personally, I disagree. I think there are many varieties of readers and buyers best visualized as a big Venn diagram on which any individual reader is a point at some layer of overlap between several distinct types. I would very loosely group them so:
- those who will download anything free
- those who scour the free story/book/teaser sections in search of someone or something new
- those who love free but will pay $0.99 up to $2.99
- those who will only pay for things because they assume free work is necessarily awful
- those who see no problem with paying any price for a book if they badly enough want/need it
- and those who think anything over $4.99 is a ripoff.
For instance, my textbook this semester has a paper version for $70 and a Kindle version for $32.99 or something like that. I’m somewhere in the second or third categories as a consumer – with dashes of the fourth and the last – so I said to heck with that and bought the paper copy out of a petty reflex of not wanting to “reward” anyone for pricing an ebook that high. There were other considerations, too, but mostly it was just spite and I know that about myself.
I also think there is less overlap between those who like free and basically all the others. There is mobility between these layers of readers, yes, but I feel like there are fewer readers who both grab anything free and those who pay any price at all. That’s a purely emotional and inferred conclusion and I have no evidence for it beyond hearsay and anecdotes, but it’s something I feel strongly enough to let it guide this specific promotional tactic. I’m not making something available to those first two types of reader in hopes I’ll turn them into paying readers all of a sudden. I’m making it available in hopes they’ll like it enough to mention me to their friends.
Short stories, especially ones I’ve already written, seem like a great, cheap, effective way to snatch some tiny fraction of the attention spans of those readers. I wrote “Complications” and submitted it to the second volume of Machine of Death a year and a half or so ago. It was not accepted and that is totally cool. I’ve since emailed with the editors and confirmed that it’s fine for me to do whatever I like with the story as long as I include a clear statement that it’s inspired by Ryan North’s concept and the concept is being used with permission. Easy-peasy. I revised and formatted “Complications” over the weekend, did a cover myself using a Creative Commons photograph under a license permitting modification and commercial uses, and put it up with no announcement other than telling exactly one friend.
In that time – twelve hours – “Complications” has been downloaded almost 1/2 the number of times Perishables has been downloaded since last June.
Free works as a promotional strategy.
I’ve picked up a couple of new Twitter followers, gotten circled by someone new on G+ and (thanks to the wonders of bit.ly) tracked click-throughs from the title page and end notes in the story to confirm that readers are going from the story to this site and reading about Perishables. I’ve either miscounted or I’ve sold two copies of Perishables today as well. “Complications” went up in the Kindle store for 99c at the same time and has not been downloaded at all. I still refuse to go with KDP Select due to its closed-off exclusivity so I can’t offer it for free and see if it works as well there.
Free definitely works on Smashwords, though. It works well enough that I’m going to extend the experiment by revising and publishing my other rejected Machine of Death story – a vampire adventure called “Hunger” – and put it up under KDP Select, for free, to see what happens with it. I want to compare the experience of posting something for free on Amazon to the relatively wild success of posting it for free on Smashwords. I will, as always, report back.