The complexities of free

For reasons that I hope are obvious, I haven't been paying ANY attention to marketing or the like over the past few months. And yet, sales of Trust are just chugging along at a remarkably steady rate.

So when I saw Lindsay Buroker's post a couple of weeks ago wondering if giving away a free book on Amazon was still a viable marketing strategy, my initial response was along the lines of, Well, duh, yes. I'm not arguing that I'm maximizing my sales here, but I think there's something to be said for a marketing method that will continue to work without any active engagement from you--like, at all. Because sometimes life drops a brick on your head, and there ain't no warning.

But the issue kept rattling around the back of my head, because according to Buroker's post other authors are seeing lower sales and blaming the lower visibility of the free lists on Amazon.

The problem with that is, there are a lot of reasons why sales drop. Summer is traditionally a slow period in book publishing, so much so that in the industry there are "summer hours" (typically Friday is off or a half day--you're supposed to make that up the rest of the week, but you don't, and nobody cares) and all the hiring happens in September.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Amazon also rejiggered its categories, at least for science fiction. This doesn't seem to have affected me much: Trang went from being on the first page of the free Science Fiction: Series books to being on the front page of the free Science Fiction: First Contact books, so I'm guessing the audiences for those two lists are pretty similar in size. That said, I could see how shifting categories around could drastically affect sales--if your book got moved into a much bigger pool of books, it would vanish off the bestseller lists, and you'd be screwed.

Out of curiosity, I decided to look up how many copies of Trang I've given away each month for the few months that it's been free. And the result really surprised me: That number has bounced all over the place. Last month I gave away about half as many copies as the month before, and about half as many as I'm on track to give away this month.

Which is weird, because my ranking has been relatively stable, and my sales of Trust have been really steady.

I have no explanation for it, and I think focusing on these short-terms shifts and trying to determine an explanation for them is a waste of brain power. Think of how dynamic the situation is: The Science Fiction: First Contact category is a new one, which means that readers and other writers are still discovering it, so I have no idea if it will continue to be a friendly category for me or not. I also don't know if Trang will go stale with that audience, or if that bestseller list will consistently attract new readers.

I really don't know why my numbers have done what they've done. But do I think it's a little more complicated than "Amazon ruined free!"