Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Build an Audience via "Piracy"

Anybody who has been involved in indie book marketing for more than a month or two is probably well aware of the tactic of using free books to build exposure and, hopefully, a base of loyal readers. There are various ways to do this, and the value of it also varies—but the fact that giving away free copies is considered a benefit of Amazon's KDP Select underscores the value of the tactic.

There are other mechanisms, apart from KDP Select, to give away free copies. These include setting up books to be "permafree" on e-book platforms where that configuration is easy (e.g., Kobo) to coupon systems and "pay what you want, even if that means zero" options. Another option is for writers to simply post free copies on their Web sites, with the files either hosted directly on their Web server or linked to a cloud storage system like Dropbox.

Those are all common and accepted ways to distribute individual copies from the author to the reader, either directly or via a third-party system. However, they don't provide a way for readers to pass along copies to other readers. It could be done, but possibly not easily and possibly not legally. You can expand the reach of your free book, and further build your audience, by using "piracy"—which I put in quotes because it's not real piracy*, but it uses tools that are used by those who violate copyright laws.

Encouraging people to pass along free copies of a creative work is nothing new. The Grateful Dead are well known for their policy of allowing fans to freely record their concerts, as long as they didn't sell the tapes. As indie writers, we can do something similar.

The first step is to grant a license to the work that allows such copying; the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license is one that would emulate the Grateful Dead's "copy, but don't sell" approach, but there are other licenses you could choose. Add a reference to the license on the copyright page, so that readers know they are free to give copies to their friends.

The next step is to make the book easily downloaded. One way is to post the book files on your Web site in a visible location. Another way is to use one of the tools that is unfortunately commonly used for copyright violation: BitTorrent. This might seem daunting to those unfamiliar with BitTorrent, but by enabling this method of distributing free copies of your book, you're expanding your reach far beyond the people who would go directly to your site.

For example, I currently have my science fiction novelette Wolf Block set up for free downloads via BitTorrent, and for this I simply posted the MOBI and EPUB files to Amazon S3 (a cloud storage service that supports, among many other things, BitTorrent "seeding"). If you have a BitTorrent client set up, feel free to give this a try and grab either the MOBI or EPUB of Wolf Block.

Once your book is available via BitTorrent, the next step is to add it to the various torrent sites. This is a step I have not completed yet, because until very recently I wasn't confident in the Amazon S3 seeding. It seems to work flawlessly, though, so finding torrent sites where I can add it is on my to-do list.

Naturally, your book files should not have any DRM enabled. This isn't a step, per se, but avoiding the step of enabling DRM will make sure the other steps aren't pointless!

If you distribute books for free, I invite you to post links to them in the comments!

* Making an illegal copy of something is nothing like the brutal violence of real pirates. I think the term "piracy" for "copyright violation" is ridiculous, and it actually supports the egos of the violators themselves, who want to be associated with the swashbuckling image of the pirates of old. I prefer the term "bootleg" which has no such connotations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Borrowing Authority

I have a family member who has decided that he is not only going to write a book, but he is going to try to have a certain world-famous political celebrity endorse it and possibly write the forward for it. He believes he has a reasonable chance of this happening. I won't name the celebrity, but you know his name, I can basically guarantee it. This family member has no existing close connection to that person, nor does he know anyone else who does. My family member also has not published any books, but he has written shorter works that he has produced at the most basic level of self-publishing, what I'm tempted to call "grunge press," i.e., staple or comb bound, no ISBN, no distribution channels, no retail sales, etc.

My admittedly-unsolicited advice was to go ahead and try—but to not expect success. I think most people would agree that the odds are absurdly low. Sometimes people get lucky, so there's presumably no harm in trying, but expecting success in this scenario does not seem wise to me.

However, the general concept is not bad, especially for nonfiction works, and it's not at all uncommon. If you aren't a recognized authority in the field already, any chance you can get to borrow authority from someone else is something you should not pass up. I think it's also important to note that it's not necessary to shoot for the highest level. You might want someone with the social influence of Oprah to endorse your book, but if you can "only" get the endorsement of a local celebrity, it's still worthwhile.

The question, then, is how does one find an opportunity to leverage the fame or other status of another person? I don't have answers, as I've never done it, but I'll throw out some ideas and encourage you to post other ideas in the comments. Here are some things I could see that might help.

  • Start with the people you know. The people we interact with on a regular basis often have facets we know nothing about. It's possible somebody you already know is in a position to "lend" their authority to your work, and they'll be much more likely to do so than somebody you've never met.
  • Network personally. Assuming you don't find anyone in your immediate circles with an appropriate background, check out your "second degree." Maybe somebody close to somebody you know is worth considering. If not, explore outward based on topic. Don't start with a destination in mind, i.e., don't decide that you need a connection to Oprah. Keep your mind open to people closer to you. If you see a possible connection, start asking for introductions.
  • Network organizationally. If you belong to organizations relevant to your writing topic, find out who else is in those organizations. If none of your fellow members is appropriate, check out related organizations. It might be worth joining if it puts you closer to someone whose endorsement could help establish the value of your work.
  • Produce a small, no-fluff, meat-and-potatoes reference work. It should be current, probably time sensitive (to encourage prompt redistribution), and of interest to people in the field you are writing about. Make it look clean and professional, as it will serve as a sort of resume. Then distribute it, at no cost, with your contact information attached. This is basically fishing for a connection initiated by someone higher up the food chain. An infographic might be a good option for this.

Any other ideas? I welcome comments and suggestions!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kobo Contests Are Promo Opportunity

If you're like me and you have books available through Kobo (for example, one of mine there is Assets, Budgets, and Credit: A Financial ABC), there's an interesting way to use their occasional contests to help promote your books. You can see if there is a contest currently running at the following address:

If there is one, here's what you can do:

  1. Sign up for the contest
  2. Play each day's trivia round—and do your research to make sure you get it right!
  3. Look for the email they send you with a one-time use discount code (which I've seen range from 10% off up to about 30% off)
  4. Offer the code to your followers, but do not just post it where they can see – it's a one-time use code, so someone who is interested should do something to get the code from you (which could be just asking for it, it depends on how creative you are)
  5. Go back each day to get all of the possible codes

Some additional points to consider:

  • Codes typically expire when the contest does, so you can't accumulate a bunch for later, and anybody who gets a code from you needs to use it promptly
  • Someone who gets a code from you might not by your book with the code, but the fact that you're giving codes away at all gives you a chance to increase your visibility, and visibility is good even if it does not immediately lead to a sale
  • You might win something nicer than a discount code!

So far I've tried this twice, and neither time had anybody ask me for a code. I think that says a lot about Kobo's market share and "mind share." However, as mentioned above, it still gives me something to talk about to increase my visibility, so I plan to continue doing it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Offline Cheap Marketing

If you've ever used Vistaprint, you know you can get pretty good printed materials for not a lot of money. That includes postcards, business cards, and much more. I've experimented with using these for promoting my books, with basically no demonstrable gain. Part of the problem is finding good opportunities to distribute those, but one of my early mistakes was also not building in a way to track effectiveness. It's possible (albeit not likely) that I've made sales as a result of distributing some promotional materials in the past without realizing it.

In my most-recent experiment, I made a "large postcard" design that I planned to cut into parts instead of using as a postcard. One part is a bookmark to promote Two Boys, Two Planets and the other parts were designed to promote Assets, Budgets, and Credit: A Financial ABC. These materials now use custom QR Codes and URLs that will allow me to track whether I get any traffic from these materials. (So far, not yet.) The easiest way to do this is to use a link shortening service like Bitly to create a link that is only used on the printed material. If you use the URL elsewhere, you'll ruin your ability to see if the offline in-print promotion worked.

Of course there are other, even-cheaper (i.e., free) ways to market offline. One of my favorite free offline marketing stories was writing a promotional phone number in the snow and getting a call from somebody who saw it there. Free and very temporary, but it worked! If you have ideas for free or cheap offline advertising, please share what has worked for you in the comments.