Left Coast Crime report & Free e books/Kindle giveaway

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I just returned from Left Coast Crime in Sacramento, a smashing success, thanks to organizer goddesses Robin Burcell and Cindy Sample and what looked like some graceful heavy lifting from the Sacramento area Sisters in Crime.

I love Left Coast Crime because it’s always so laid-back and friendly, possibly the most comfortable conference on the mystery circuit.

But this year there was definitely an undercurrent at the con, the same furtive conversation overheard repeatedly in dark corners of the bar, and it went like this.  Have you done it yet? How was it? How many times have you done it? Have you told your agent you’re doing it?  I want to do it but I’m afraid to do it… but should I do it?

Well, let’s face it, we’re all doing it, and some of us have been doing it for a while.  I’m talking about e books, of course.  Everyone was comparing stories, numbers, strategies,  numbers, choices, numbers….

Because it’s the numbers.

Things have changed so much since I went to my first conference in 2006. Oh, the conferences are still wonderful, unforgettable experiences, so very good for so many things on so many levels.  Let me just start with some non-business things.  

For one thing, I get to get dressed.  I even get to get dressed up, but just getting dressed every day is a miraculous thing.  It makes me feel so professional and human.  And because that’s such a treat I like to play around with it. This year I’ve been taking a belly dance class and I’ve discovered that they sell regular clothes – sort of – in belly dance costume stores, so I had some wonderful net-y sparkly things that other people seemed to enjoy seeing me in. But full-on costuming is not required: Kelli Stanley is never without her trademark fedoras (and this year some fabulous scarves and jewelry) and Bill Fitzhugh is always memorable in his berets – a little accessorizing is a great way to stand out from the crowd, express a little personality that gives a hint of your books, and help readers find you.

There is the sudden totally immersive social life – scary to some people but for most of us it’s a relief and a comfort and a total joy to be around people that just GET IT.  There’s nothing anyone has to explain because we all do the same thing all day and night and we all feel exactly the same way about it and we can talk about it with people who really know but we don’t have to because they do know.  And if we get a little crazy, and who doesn’t, once in a while? – what happens at a con stays at a con, and the family has your back.

And when we need to talk, well, there are no better listeners than writers. This year was actually a very weepy one; so many people had lost parents and spouses, others were struggling with or had just emerged from serious illnesses.  But if you can’t break down sobbing in a dark corner of the bar with your brother and sister mystery writers, I don’t know who else you could do it with. 

It’s also so wonderful to be around so many readers; they keep us honest and – well, they make me remember WHY I write, WHY it’s worth it to get to The End.

At a con writers exchange business information, they learn even more from booksellers and librarians; they get inspired hearing each other talk on panels (This year it was John Lescroat, the Guest of Honor, who gave me the inspirational ass-kicking I needed). Some of us teach and learn just as much from our students as they’re learning from us.

And in a business sense, I mean a book business sense, there are reviewers, editors, social media pros – unexpected opportunities come up for promotion. And you’re exposed to new readers.  I taught a workshop that was maybe 60 or 70 people.   I was on a panel for which there were about 25 people in the audience; I did another that was packed, easily 100 people.  That’s some good exposure to potential readers, even though I know there’s a growing percentage of those readers  who already know of me and my books, so in some ways I’m preaching to the choir.

In 2006, going to one of these cons was still one of the best ways to develop a following that would buy your books.  You’d have to do a lot of them, and other appearances as well, but the theory was that you would build a devoted audience that would always buy your books, and that would be the core of a growing fan base.

But here’s where the numbers question starts to come in, in this new era.

This week I’m doing the new thing, a Kindle Select promotion on Amazon in which I am listing several books for free – a blast that gets thousands of books out there – not to my fan base, which theoretically already HAS my books – but to a whole lot of people who have never heard of me but who might become fans.  Our Zoe Sharp and former Rati Brett Battles and I have teamed up with recent guest blogger Scott Nicholson, and thriller writers Mel Comley and Aiden James to further promote our giveaways by raffling off three Kindle Fires and some gift certificates on the new site Scott has built for this kind of promotion (it’s ebookswag.com, and you can click and enter the drawing for free with the button on the left of the page, and download all our free Kindle thrillers as well).

Well, first day of promo, day isn’t anywhere near over yet, and The Harrowing, my first giveaway, has already had over five thousand downloads.  That’s five thousand new readers who actually HAVE the book – they’re not just considering it as I speak on a panel or as they walk past it in a bookstore – they HAVE it. (And to put that in more perspective – 5000 copies is a standard first print run for a lot of books!  We’re talking ONE DAY). If people don’t read it all the way through – well, that’s my fault or their particular taste, but those odds are a huge improvement over pretty much any other kind of promotion I could do myself (not counting a big publisher push).  And that’s just one day – we’re doing this giveaway all week (I’ll be offering The Price and The Space Between on Thursday and Friday) and the cost to each of us participating is less than the cost of one day at a conference.  In fact I’d say it costs about a quarter of what one day at a conference costs.

This is the new model and the kind of economic reality we’re looking at these days, and it’s really making me think. I will never stop going to conferences. They’re life.  They’re my inspiration, they’re my social life, they’re my way of keeping up with my beloved extended family, and they are great business. But these days there are ways of reaching readers that are book promo on steroids, and I wanted to at least broach the subject because this is what I’m seeing and that’s what we do here – we talk about this stuff.

So please check out ebookswag.com every weekday this week to take advantage of all the free books (including The Space Between on Saturday, still)  and by all means sign yourself up for a chance at those Kindle Fires.  And I’ve just noticed another Rati alum in the Top Ten Free Suspense along with Brett and me today – J.D. Rhoades.  It’s a bonanza!

And tell me, authors – how do you see the promotional model changing?  Are you more confused than ever, or is some of this making sense to you (and if so, please explain it fo the rest of us!)

And readers – how do you find books, these days?  Are you into the free book promos?  Has your bookbuying changed with e readers?


31 thoughts on “Left Coast Crime report & Free e books/Kindle giveaway

  1. F.T. Bradley

    From the author side:
    My debut isn't coming out until October, but I'm already busy navigating all the ways I can find readers online. There are soooo many options now, it can get overwhelming. I think the hardest part is figuring out what virtual promotion is effective, and what's a waste of time. It takes a lot of focus.

    From the reader side:
    I like a free e-book to try a new author. I've also downloaded samples and then bought the e-book. My e-reader has made it easier to buy a book on the fly.

    For some reason, I still prefer holding that print version, though…

  2. Jude Hardin

    I've only been getting a few hundred downloads for my giveaways. How do you manage so many?

    Also, looking into the future, I'm wondering if all these freebies might ultimately be harmful to sales. I already have so many free books on my Kindle, I wouldn't need to buy a book for a long time if I didn't want to. And there are more and more free books, from very good authors, every day. Aren't readers eventually going to just expect free to be the norm?

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Fleur, it really is overwhelming. I think the old adage for non-internet promotion holds true, though – EVERYTHING works. It's just hard to tell what works best. And the truth is, it's always cumulative – I don't think there's any one thing to do that's the be all and end all.

    I have to admit I am less and less inclined to pick up a paper book. NEVER thought I'd say it.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Jude, I'm sure part of the numbers are just a crap shoot, but that's why a bunch of us teamed up – for the cross-promo, which seems to be working well. Hopefully Z and Brett and Dusty too will weigh in today – if not, I'll do a followup post on it all.

    To answer the question about free books becoming the norm – here's a link to the guest blog Scott Nicholson did on ad-supported freebies. I think he's right that it's the logical next step.


    But after downloading a bunch of free novels to check them out, I have to say that I'm not very inclined to download any more EXCEPT by authors I know, or highly recommended by friends. What about the rest of you? What are your filters?

  5. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Alex

    Great post. Congrats on LCC – sounds like you had a wonderful time. I was really sorry I couldn't make it this year, but maybe next time … <sigh>

    On the ebook debate, I agree with you that after the initial "woo-hoo, free books!" I'm now a lot more selective. If I see a book is on offer by an author I've been meaning to try, I'll go for it, but if the premise doesn't grab me, I won't. I used to religiously bring home all the free books in the book bag at conventions, too. Now I sort through them on the first day and put the ones I just *know* aren't my thing onto the swap table.

    I did an e-book promotion right at the start of March, and it had a terrific effect on my sales for that book and the others in the series. I can only hope that once people read one, they want to read the others.

  6. Lisa Alber

    It does seem overwhelming to know how/where to begin if you're a debuting novelist without many connections, that's for sure. I just popped over to ebookswag.com. That's a great idea you-all have there–great self-promo vehicle. Do you think it helps that you-all are already established authors?

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Z, I completely agree about the free books – paper or e, I'm very selective, and author and premise are key. I only took one free book from my swag bag at LCC this year. I'd rather put them on the giveaway table for people who will really read them.

  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lisa, certainly it helps that we all have reviews from traditional and respected sources. How MUCH that means, I'm not exactly sure. Having been published traditionally also is one filter that gives people an edge. But the sheer number of books that are going out for all of us this week means we're reaching people who have never heard of us at all, and are still willing to give us a try.

    What I really think is going to help in the future is authors banding together to create our own filter – like only being involved with cross promo with authors we can legitimately vouch for as good. I hope that will start to mean something, but – who knows?

  9. JD Rhoades

    This is the fourth free e-book promotion I've done. As of right this second, I've given away over 14,500 e-book copies of "Breaking Cover". This may seem foolish of me, until I tell you that, when I gave away over 10,000 copies of "The Devil's Right Hand," sales of the other books skyrocketed. The other two promos I did, for "Lawyers, Guns and Money" and "Gallows Pole", did about half as well, but I still saw significant bumps in paid book sales. It works.
    As to what makes this successful: One thing that's seemed to help is timing. The most successful giveaways started on Monday morning. That way, the "free Kindle Books sites" (and they are many) pick you up and give you free publicity. Then you start getting on the Amazon bestseller lists, and success feeds success. As to whether already having had books in print has helped..who knows? The ones that have sold best have, it's true, already been reviewed quite a bit. But I know I'm almost certainly still a stranger to the majority of the…let me look…now over 14,800 people downloading BC. (That's the really heady thing, by the way..checking the #'s and seeing them jump by hundreds in a few minutes. It's only slightly tempered by the fact that I'm not making a dime off those sales…yet).

    Good luck with the promo, Alex! I Tweeted you 🙂

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Wonderful info, Dusty, thanks for stopping by and filling us in. I do think you get better at it and kind of get a feel for the rhythm. Good to know about Mondays! I've only done the big push in the UK so far, this if my first round in the US, but saw a HUGE jump in sales over there.

    Had no idea you were doing this this week or we would have had you in on the ebookswag thing! We need to keep in better touch.

  11. susan

    Jeff Shelby had an interesting post about this on Jungle Red writers a few days ago, and has an
    even more detailed post on his own website (jeffshelby.com, page down to the Feb 20 post).

    On a sort of related note – The Seattle Times is doing a series of articles on Amazon this week.
    In yesterday's article, writer Paul Alexander said that he's made $50,000 (and counting) on one Kindle Single.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Absolutely, next time, Dusty – I'll e mail you. The UK only promo was kind of automatic – the book is Book of Shadows, which isn't available in the US yet (this month, I hope), so I just signed up for the Select giveaway the same way you click in, and the book was only made available in the UK because it's not listed as for sale in the US. Amazon automatically excludes the US, it couldn't be simpler.

    Did that make sense?

  13. KDJames

    Alex, I love your conference posts. Almost makes me wish I could afford to go, even though it takes two weeks for my poor introverted brain to recover from the shock and start functioning again afterward.

    I've done the free promo thing for my book twice now (2 days, then 1 day) and it was really fun, as JD said, to watch the numbers. Although mine weren't anywhere close to yours — just under 1K total, I think. It's a different (smaller) market for humour than it is for novels. It was very cool to see my book at #1 in free, right next to Tina Fey's book at #1 in paid. Yes, I KNOW, it doesn't MEAN anything, but it was still a little thrill. I just hope some of those people actually read it and enjoy it.

    I buy, and read, way more books now than I used to when I was reading paper. It's ridiculous. I've told myself I can't buy any more until I've read more of the ones I've already got. And then I find one (or twelve) that I just have to get… I'm a lot more particular, though, after stumbling into several that were just painful to read (and not in a good way). I've discovered a few people on twitter whose reading tastes are similar to mine and I've come to trust their recommendations. I've found several new-to-me writers that I enjoy from guest blog posts and interviews. And the Amazon recs can be interesting, although I download the sample before I buy.

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey KD!! You know what, I think it DOES mean something that you were #1 next to Tina Fey. I think this is what Amazon GETS, and exploits, in our favor. It's a psychological thing. When your book is listed next to Tina Fey's, browsers associate you with Tina Fey and they download your book – they try it. Tina Fey is in effect pimping your book for you. Just like right now Stephen King and Suzanne Collins are pimping MY book. It's a powerful push – really awesome, and I don't mean in the So Cal way, I mean in a truly miraculous way.

    I'm buying and reading more books, too. From the stats, it seems like EVERYONE is. How can that not be a great thing for all of us?

  15. KDJames

    Well, I was trying to say it didn't mean that my book was on a par with Tina Fey's. 😉 Not like what it would mean if it were next to hers vertically on the paid list.

    And yes, the bump in visibility is like an incredible gift from Amazon. They certainly know how to sell stuff. I plan to use my remaining two free days when Jenny (The Bloggess) Lawson's book releases. Although it looks like her pre-orders have been huge. I think that might be a good strategy for anyone. If your book is in the same category as a new release that's anticipated to be a big bestseller, take advantage of the free program during the first few weeks after release. On a Monday. Apparently.

  16. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I'm so bummed I couldn't be there this year, Alex! I love LCC – it's just the best conference!

  17. Cindy Sample

    Hi Alex. THanks for the compliments on LCC. Robin and I were thrilled everyone had a great time. Even in this world of internet marketing, networking is still important and it sounds like you were busy discussing all the burning topics of the day. Great post. Very informative. I'm not at that stage yet but now that LCC is over and I can get back to writing, I appreciate all of the advice that you and others are sharing.

    PS – loved your sparkly wear. I still have a belly dancing skirt from many decades ago!

  18. Cindy Sample

    Hi Alex. THanks for the compliments on LCC. Robin and I were thrilled everyone had a great time. Even in this world of internet marketing, networking is still important and it sounds like you were busy discussing all the burning topics of the day. Great post. Very informative. I'm not at that stage yet but now that LCC is over and I can get back to writing, I appreciate all of the advice that you and others are sharing.

    PS – loved your sparkly wear. I still have a belly dancing skirt from many decades ago!

  19. Alexandra Sokoloff

    OMG, Cindy, you deserve an exotic vacatiob and a two-week nap on a beach somewhere. It was a total triumph – even with all the sadness I couldn't have had a better time. THANK YOU.

  20. Greg James (G.R. Yeates)

    I'd say you're spot on with KDP Select being like book promo on steroids, Alex. I've done a few conventions in the UK and, to be honest, I don't think I'll be doing anymore. For a new writer with limited funds, they are too expensive for the little that I am likely to get out of it – I say this with the proviso that the prejudice is still heavily in favour of traditional publishing in the UK at these events so, as a self-published author, the atmosphere is only so welcoming for me. By comparison, using online marketing tools, I've managed to gain a following and this year I've started to make money. My sales aren't stellar by any means but in my first month of doing KDP Select promos I made the same money as I did all of last year piddling around between different price points. I think it's the way to go for established and new writers alike.

  21. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Greg, I think you're going to clean up on e book sales. It takes a while to get momentum, but you are doing all the right things and you have the passion. It will happen for you, I have no doubt!

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