I watched David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things the other night, about dopamine and how it works on the teenage brain. The program was already 20 minutes in by the time I sat down in front of the tv, dinner balanced on a tray in my lap–I know, a little late, but I was waiting for hubby to be done with choir practice. Yes, I hear you, why wait to have dinner with someone if you’re just going to sit down in front of the tv? I don’t do it all the time. Ok?
Now I’m a long way from teenagehood, but I was intrigued by the show’s basic premise. In short, teenagers engage in risky behaviour, behaviour that pushes at the boundaries of safety (physical and emotional) and acceptance in order to experience and to learn. In response, the body produces more dopamine, the brain’s own reward system, which gives the risk-taker or thrill-seeker a high. And the feeling dopamine gives you is addictive: the more you do something that makes you feel great, the more you want to do it again to repeat that amazing feeling.
So what does this have to do with giving away free books?
Everything! If you’re a dopamine junkie, that is (and physiologically not everyone is).
Where’s the risk? It’s not as if you’re shelling out any money to do this (unless you take out ads on ebook blogs/ sites).
The risk is to your reputation or sense of self worth. What if no one downloads your book, even though it’s free? How’s that going to make you feel?
Like a loser.
Obviously, the goal of going free is to get as many downloads as possible, because when your book comes off free, it will then skyrocket up amazon’s popularity charts (different from their sales charts), thus making it more visible to shoppers cruising the site looking for their next great read. Also, the more downloads, the higher the chance of your book getting onto some bestseller lists: thrillers, mystery, historical fiction, literary fiction. Or how about this for my book: Non-fiction–Arts & Entertainment–Theatre. Huh? Search me. Ask amazon.
I put The Fisher of Paradise up for free on October 11 & 12. By the end of the second day I had 6502 downloads and was feeling so buzzy and high that I extended the promotion a third day. Total downloads: 7289.
7289. That’s more than the combined total of copies printed of my first two novels. Thousands more. For four straight hours on the second day, Fishers was downloading at the rate of 250 copies an hour. To complete strangers! Talk about a dopamine kick! And guess what, on amazon you can feed your addiction as often as you like–just click the unit sales button. Then click it again. And again. Watch those numbers change. Woo hoo. This is so far from the twice-yearly, hard to decipher royalty statements I’ve lived with for the past decade that I felt like a rat with a cocaine lever. Click it again. And again and again.
Yeah, but most of those downloaders are freebie junkies. No one’s going to look at your book now it’s buried on their device. How do you know? How many people have bought print books they’ve never read? Let me answer that for you. Everyone who’s ever bought books.
Some argue that the current onslaught of free books is devaluing culture, or at least devaluing the product authors are creating. But publishers have been giving away books as a promotional tool for as long as they’ve been publishing books . If you’re a bookseller or have ever worked in a bookstore you’ve likely been to a Book Expo. Publisher after publisher crammed into convention halls armed with boxes of books–sometimes skids of them–to hand out, and, as an extra special bonus, the author there to sign the book and have a chitty chat with. I attended as a Goose Lane author, to sign my books (somewhere between 20 and 30 copies, if memory serves) in the hope that the booksellers stuffing my book into bags bulging with 20, 30, 40 or more other books, many (most?) from authors far more well-known, would go home, read it (first, of course), fall in love and then go into work raving about it to every customer who stepped through the door.
Book Expo was a fabulous, heady experience. Of course I was nervous. Despite years of standing in classrooms teaching adults, this was different. This was me on the line, my guts poured onto the page and offered up to the public for approval. My book signing was announced, people gathered and formed a (small) line. I gripped the pen and raced through with my head down, barely lifting my eyes to ask the person’s name. 4, 3, 2, 1, it was over. I looked up. Everyone had gone. Three and half minutes had passed.
Immediately I regretted my rush. Why hadn’t I drawn the people out, chatted to them, asked them about their day, their dog’s name, anything to keep them there in front of me a few moments more, linger in this heady feeling, relax, enjoy it. Sure, dopamine was running around my system, but it ran dry pretty soon afterwards.
Of course I didn’t get to meet any of the people who downloaded my book for free, ask their name, or after their dog. Chances are I probably never will. But that giving away high lasted for 3 days. Not three minutes. Three days. Three sleepless, giddy, euphoric days. I know there are authors out there who get tens of thousands of downloads. I was chatting on the kindleboards with one of them, Anne Frasier, whose serial killer thriller Hush, on a free promotion at the same time as Fishers, managed such numbers. What did they do for her? Propelled her into the top 500 PAID amazon rankings. Three weeks later she’s still hovering around the 500-600 mark. That translates into A LOT of sales per day. The book is $3.99. Amazon’s share: 30%.
Does this happen to everyone? Of course not. A whole series of factors come into play. What side of bed you got out of, planetary alignment, weather, the genre you’re writing in, which blogs/sites announced your promotion, WHETHER YOUR BOOK IS ANY GOOD, the categories you’re in. Lots of people far more experienced than I am I at this game have written far more extensively and knowledgeably about such factors elsewhere.
What did it do for me? Well, not that. But I couldn’t pay for the kind of exposure those KDP Select free days gave me. I climbed as high as #32 on the top 100 Free, #1 in drama, and by the third day made it to #1 in Historical Fiction, which I was especially charged by. All those fabulous dresses with their crinoline skirts and plunging necklines, all those swords and castles. And me with my gritty family drama and a man standing on the roof of a shack wielding a sledgehammer against a shocking pink sky. As for post-free sales. I have them. And more than the pre-free sales, that’s for sure.
grabbed this from Ian’s apple, but you need a magnifying glass to read it. I still have a lot of wordpress learning to do!
Sales. That’s why authors do this, right? In the hopes their book will hit the stratosphere and propel them into fame and fortune. Sure. But I don’t think it’s the only reason. There’s the idea of hundreds and potentially thousands of strangers reading your work. Not friends or family or fellow authors. Complete strangers.
And then there’s dopamine. Already I’m anticipating the thrill.
So you’d do it again?
I would. In a dopamine-fuelled heartbeat.