Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Do HOT Covers Affect Free Promotion? by Jannine Gallant

There's been a lot of discussion about promoting books by offering them for free on a few of the various author loops. Some think it's a great idea. Some view it as cheapening something they worked hard to create. I'm actually for it since, over all, free has affected my sales in a positive manner. I see it as one more tool to get my book into the hands of readers who have never heard of me. But all my attempts at giving my books away for free have not had the same results. Being of an analytical frame of mind, I have to ask why.

To date, I've had three experiences with free books. Some were offered multiple times, but my figures reflect the best results for each. They vary widely, as you'll see. For each of these promotional efforts, I used the same tactics. I blogged all over the place. I plagued my Facebook friends and posted about my free book on various FB sites designed for this purpose. I tweeted my brains out and begged my author buddies in several support groups to do the same. Most importantly, I submitted my books to all the free listing sites out there. A lot of the results had to do with which books were featured, and that's kind of a crap shoot. However, I think there's one other important element. The cover.

All that squawking and shouting about your book drives initial downloads and moves you up in those oh so mysterious and important Amazon rankings. If you can tip your book into the top #100, you stand a chance of success. In this case, success being thousands of downloads. The key at that point is to stay in the top #100. By the time you get there, everyone on social media is tired of hearing from you. Basically, your book cover now has to do the work for you. Readers actually look at those free books in the top 100, and yours has to catch their eye for them to download it. I have to say, covers do matter. The hotter the better!


So, here are my results. My first attempt at Free was with Lonely Road To You. This was part of a group series, and 5 authors participated in the promotion effort. The result, almost 3,000 downloads. Follow up sales. Pathetic. My conclusion, 3000 downloads didn't make a blip in the market.


My second foray was with the first book in my indie series. We'll Never Tell came in at just under 12,000 downloads. The results were an upsurge in sales for the whole series that lasted well into the month. I was pretty darned happy about this one!


And finally, Asking For Trouble, which had it's free day a week ago. Downloads almost hit the 17,000 mark! I was pretty impressed. The results have been steady sales but not what I'd hoped for in the way of numbers. This book has a prequel, and it has also had some new traffic. My conclusion is book #1 in a series will generate the most sales over all after the free days are over.

But what about that hot factor? Check out my covers. Lonely Road To You is pleasant but not spectacular. We'll Never Tell is eye catching but not really hot. I wasn't quite ready to go bare-chested with that one. Asking For Trouble has a hot cowboy splashed across the front.  What do you think? 5,000 more downloads for Mr. Sexy. I have a feeling there may be more bare chested covers in my future!

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40 comments:

Margo Hoornstra said...

You may be on to something. I found similar results between two books of mine. One with a beautiful, sweet cover, one with a sexy guy. Sexy guy won! The caveat, you must have a good product to keep readers coming back for more.

RT Wolfe said...

My small experience says a free short, even when a prequel, does little. A free full-length novel shoots a series up. Best wishes to all authors. This market is nuts. :)
-R.T.

Ashantay said...

I agree with your assessment about social media and book covers. Plus, I think titles are key - Asking for Trouble seems to promise a hotter read than Lonely Road to You. Or maybe not, but I've noticed that hot or catchy titles attract more downloads. I downloaded your last - looking forward to the read!

Liz Flaherty said...

Thanks for the information. I'm going free tomorrow and have a sneaking suspicion I'm ill-prepared, but we'll see.

Katie O'Sullivan said...

Interesting observations, thanks for sharing!

Leah St. James said...

My first book with The Wild Rose Press shows a woman's fishnet-stockinged-leg braced on the top of a bench at the boardwalk. (It's about FBI agents have to go deep undercover into a kinky world at the Jersey Shore to solve a murder.) While the book is no longer for sale by TWRP, I still have a handful of paperbacks with that cover, and when I take them to sell at book fairs/festivals, people make a beeline to that book--women and men. Interesting.

Diane Burton said...

So glad you're analytical, Jannine. :) I think my free days resulted in a lot of reviews--always helpful. Thanks for your perspective.

Ally Hayes said...

Thanks for the helpful info and insight. Still figuring my way around and appreciate posts like this.

J.C. McKenzie said...

I agree with your assessment too, but I also noticed that your sales went up sequentially and this might also be the result of your increasing fan base. Just throwing the thought out there! Good luck with the rest of your sales.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks for the tips, Jannine. Mark Coker of Smashwords would agree with you completely...he's analyzed how changing a cover (so it pops out to the reader) creates a surge in sales. Yet it's only the self-pubbed books we can manipulate at will.

Jannine Gallant said...

Margo, I agree that no matter how many downloads you get, no one will buy your books if they don't like the free one!

RT, interesting! All three of these are novella length. I've yet to try this with a full length novel. Now you have me curious!

Jannine Gallant said...

Ashantay, I think you're on to something. Of all my TWRP books, Nothing but Trouble has done the best by far. Very catchy title and the reason I went for Asking For Trouble for this one. I hope it helps!

Liz, best of luck! Just ask everyone to help you get the word out. It really does make a difference in those initial downloads!

Jannine Gallant said...

Katie, thanks for stopping by. Hope this will help you!

Leah, yep, it doesn't have to be bare-chested. Our Alison did very well with a woman's legs on her cover, too. It projects sexy!

Jannine Gallant said...

Diane, I'm also racking up the reviews and loving it! That's a definite positive.

Ally, I'm happy to share what I've learned. I think the whole writing community is very generous with their information. We all have to stick together!

Jannine Gallant said...

JC, My downloads went up with each book. However, my sales were best with the second one. That one is self-pubbed, and I had the other books in the series splashed all over it. I think that really helped with sales, but I hope I'm building a fan base!

Rolynn, I'm glad someone in the industry agrees with me. Actually, TWRP is becoming much more progressive. I chose my own cowboy. They picked the background. Used to be all we got was a little input. I agree, though, with self-pubbing, you have a lot more control!

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

I've learned a lot in my nearly 4 years as a published author. I liked titles that were less "Harlequin-esky" and more meaningful to the content of the book. WRONG!! Little sales. I was determined not to have a naked man's chest on my covers. There are so many like that out there, it's downright comical. I always wrote on my cover sheets "No naked men!" WRONG!! Little sales.

Calvin and I talked it over. He suggested I release my rigid ideas and try what everyone else was doing. So with my first HarperImpulse title, I went with "Santa Wore Leathers" and left my typical no skin request off my cover form. With a racier title and cover, my sales went higher. I'm eager to see my cover from Random House for A HIGHLANDER'S OBSESSION, which was their choice for the title after they adamantly refused my When Paisley Meets Plaid (Paisley is my heroine and the first time she meets her Scottish hero, he's wearing his kilt). They also frowned on A Highlander's Beloved; not quite racy enough.

What a business!!

Jannine Gallant said...

Are we clones, Vonnie? I also requested no skin on all my books. I wanted lovely, beautiful scenes. When they completely ignored me and gave me a hot guy on Nothing But Trouble, I nearly had a heart attack! Then (shocker!) I started selling more books. Live and learn, right? I guess if we want beautiful scenery, we should go to a museum not the top selling books on Amazon!

Niecey Roy said...

I'm just now venturing into the shirtless cover... Crossing my fingers it results in good sales *winks* I'll also be trying my first freebie since TWRP had my debut novel, Fender Bender Blues for free! I did so well with that freebie (if we're talking downloads) at around 58,000 downloads, I believe it was. Sales spiked for about a month after, and dropped off

Niecey Roy said...

Also, I think if a an author does a freebie when they have other books for readers to purchase right after they read the freebie that would help tremendously! My freebie was done when I didn't have another book to offer. Janine, did you notice a spike in sales with your OTHER books that weren't after one of your freebie sales?

Jannine Gallant said...

That's amazing, Niecey! I saw the same thing with We'll Never Tell. Strong sales for almost a month before they tapered off into nothing much at all. With this last book, I've had a week of a handful of sales every day. Not spectacular but better than before. My bare-chested cowboy got me the downloads but that's it. Good luck with yours.

Jannine Gallant said...

Oops, answered too soon. On my Secrets of Ravenswood series, the free book had the strongest sales right off the bat. That tapered after a week and the other two (especially the 2nd one) started getting far more sales. I didn't notice anything happening with my other books that weren't part of the series. With Asking For Trouble, I'm getting sales for both it and Nothing But Trouble. Also a few for my other series, but not many more than I was before the free days. Free seems to affect other books in the free series far more than the rest of your body of work.

SherryGLoag said...

Of all my books the cover to Vidal's Honor is the most striking. Being a Regency there's no naked men on the front, so I can't even claim that for its success. Vidal's Honor is one of 4 books that have gone to print editions, and when I take them to fairs it is still Vidal's Honor that draws attention, even though another cover has as much impact. I've come to the conclusion that covers matter far more than most readers will admit and most authors realise.

Alison Henderson said...

I've only done one freebie, and I'm sure the cover had a lot to do with its success. I designed it myself to jump off the page with strong contrasting colors and a woman's black-stockinged legs (she's also wearing a very short red dress and holding a gun between her legs). It definitely suggests sexy, although this is the least explicit of all my full-length books. It got 20K downloads and 60 Amazon reviews so far. The surprising thing to me (although it shouldn't be) is how many men have read and enjoyed it. Most never realized they were reading romance.

Jannine Gallant said...

Sherry, I think you're right! People DO judge a book by its cover. Until we are so famous our name sells the book for us, covers do matter. No one will read the blurb if they don't notice the cover first and pick it up. (Or in the world of digital, click on it!)

Jannine Gallant said...

Alison, your cover jumps off the page. It's not bare-chested, but it's still sexy. You did a phenomenal job with it. And it's a great story. When you have the second book in the series ready, put Unwritten Rules back up for free and watch it sell the next one for you!

Nancy Jardine said...

I'm finding all of this is very intresting reading, Jannine. I've heard from other sources about the first book of a series being FREE increases sales of the subsequent books but I've never yet been able to try it out. Though, since Book 3 of my historical romantic adventures is due end March, maybe I should see if my publishers would entertain the 'free' option for a while.

Jannine Gallant said...

Nancy, it's certainly easier when you self-publish or your book is a new release. The only problem with free on Amazon is it has to be exclusive to KDP. If your book is up on other sites, they will only price match.

Mary Morgan said...

Wow, Jannine! Loved reading this post, and as a former bookseller for Borders, (romance)I can definitely say that the cover sells! Oh yes! Now that I have my own book being released soon, I'm thrilled by the cover. Yes, I want the prose to sell it and I'm taking advantage of the free days from KDP, but in the end, I know what will drive those readers to "want" that book -- the cover!

I can't tell you what a joy listening and learning to each of my WRP authors...You ladies rock!

Jannine Gallant said...

Mary, the whole point is getting our prose in the hands of readers. If the cover does that, more power to the cover! LOL

Betsy Ashton said...

We all know covers sell books. And romance novels need hot, sexy guys to grab attention. All things considered, this works. I want my books in readers hands. I spend time courting librarians and indie book stores. So far, so good. Time will tell when book two of the series comes out. Good post, Jannine. Lots of things to think about.

Jannine Gallant said...

Always happy to make a person think, Betsy. You're very proactive in your approach to promo, and more power to you for that!

AJ Nuest said...

I really enjoyed this post, Jannine. Great job. And I agree the sexy cover is the seller. I purposely went outside my normal "no skin on the cover" with She's Got Dibs and got around 20K downloads while it was free. And it's funny because the cover was recently featured in a USA Today article all thanks to my dear friend Mackenzie Crowne, and I immediately saw an upsurge in sales. Nothing to write home about but, still, more sales than I had gotten on that book in a while...especially since I haven't really been promoting it. The other side to this is that I have received criticism because of the cover as well. A lot of people commented in their reviews that the cover did not match the story. That they expected a really different story because of the racy cover (I'm not sure in what way they expected the difference because no one told me). I think there is a fine balance between matching the two -- the cover and the story -- to meet reader expectations. Just something for all of us to think about moving forward.

I would love, love, LOVE to try and go free for a bit again, especially with the first installment of The Golden Key. But I'm not sure that would work since the book has been out a while and is already listed on other sellers besides Amazon. I forgot about that exclusive deal they had...crap. LOL

Thanks for the thought-provoking post and doing this homework for us! x

Jannine Gallant said...

Good point, AJ. When people have certain expectations and don't get it, they're pissed. My books are somewhere on the low end of R rated. I fully agree you have to temper the cover to fit the rating. Otherwise, you're just Asking For Trouble. (pun intended!)

I've thought about putting my indie series on other sites besides Amazon but haven't for the very issue of wanting to keep my "free" options open. I may just want to use it again somewhere down the road.

Alicia Dean said...

Wow, lots of comments on this one! Thanks for your analytical and informative post. I am begninning to think that freebies do not get the results they used to because they are so commonplace. I am very impressed with your download numbers and with the download numbers of some of the commenters. If you're getting your work in that many hands, you have a good shot at growing a readership.

I agree it's much more effective if you have other titles out there. I don't really think of it as lost sales, because it's not all that likely that those particular readers would have purchased your book anyway.

Alicia Dean said...

One more thing, about covers, I also never wanted 'skin' on my covers, but I do believe those sell better. My problem is, if the book doesn't deliver on the near naked promise (it's only 'semi' hot), then I'm afraid I'm misleading readers. And, I'm also glad TWRP is now allowing authors some input on covers. It's more work for the artists, but TWRP likes to make authors happy! :)

Maggie Toussaint said...

I'm a fan of the free promotions, especially in a series. The key seems to be coming into the free period with the requisite currency: reviews. I don't know how many downloads I had for Hot Water because I've already boxed up that file (moving in the near future), but I had the highest royalties with my romance publisher in 2013 as a result of that freebie.

Great post, Janine!

Jannine Gallant said...

I agree, Ally. AJ, too, made this point. You can't mislead the reader. There's a fine line between attracting attention and trying to sell something that isn't between the covers. I think a bare chest works with an R rated book. However, if you put two naked people on the front, readers will expect x-rated. We have to keep it real. I was THRILLED to find out TWRP would let us make cover suggestions now. I found my cowboy, and they went with it. But, you still get the guidance of someone who knows what they're doing. It's win-win for everyone.

Jannine Gallant said...

Maggie, I was pretty worried only to have 4 reviews going into my free period. More will definitely give you a better chance with the more prestigious freebie listing sites. It's so hard to balance all the factors. Now I'm getting the reviews, so I hope it'll help to keep the momentum going. Glad you had success with your free days!

MJ Schiller said...

Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing! Timely for me as I'm trying to get a book free and redesigning a cover for another book to see how it affects sales. I would worry that bare chested would misrepresent my work, too. Are yours steamy or sweet, Jannine?

Jannine Gallant said...

MJ, my stories are in between. They have some sex but not HOT sex. It's not closed door but I don't go into graphic detail. In other words, R rated. I'm confident bare chested isn't misrepresenting. I think you have to go with what your gut tells you as far as an appropriate cover.