Giving it all away

Earlier this year I was casting around for some way to publicise the fourth novel in my ongoing SF/Humour series before the launch. The books are doing fairly well in Australia, but there’s a huge chasm between ‘fairly well’ and where I’d like them to be, and so I got talking to the publisher.

Like I said, this is book four and we’ve already done bookmarks and book launches and flyers and media releases and so on for the first three in the series. There’s only so much junk you can throw out there before it becomes a bit of a joke.

We’ve also been exploring selling the rights to other markets, but I’ve heard doubts about whether the humour in the books will sell outside Australia. (That’s nothing – I spent six years trying to convince local publishers the humour would sell IN Australia. Selling ANY book to ANY publisher is a slow process.)

So, a bold move was needed, and a bold move is what I came up with: I floated the idea of giving away the first novel as a free download.

Yes, I know it’s been done before, and by some pretty big names. The difference in this case is that the Hal Spacejock books are only available in bookstores across Australia and New Zealand. Nobody in the US or UK is going to read the first few chapters online and then buy a copy of the book in their local store: They can’t, because the books aren’t stocked there.

This goes against the whole idea of giving away the ebook so people will cave in and buy a paper copy, and it’s the reason I had to work hard to convince my publisher to go with the plan. I didn’t want to jeapordise any overseas rights deals, but on the other hand … what overseas rights deals? We’re on book four of a bestselling series … surely it’s time to wave our arms around, make some noise, attract some attention?

Two weeks and many thousand downloads later, it’s still not possible to judge whether the experiment has been a success. The first book (the one we’re giving away) is undergoing a third print run, so the ebook hasn’t killed off the sales. A UK bookstore got in touch and ordered several sets of all four books to sell over there. There are also several other things in the air which I can’t talk about.

So, would I do it again? Yes, I would. In fact, when Hal Spacejock book five rolls around next year, I’m going to see whether my publisher will release Hal Spacejock 2 as a freebie. There’s very little to lose, and a whole lot to gain.

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  1. 1. Karen Wester Newton

    I think if thousands of folks downloaded your book, that’s got to be a good thing. People can’t talk it up to their friends if they haven’t read it, can they?

    Making the jump to a new business model isn’t easy. I applaud your vision! The future belongs to those who can adapt.

  2. 2. Dan Ronco

    PeaceMaker, my first novel, was published in 2004. Prior to the launch of Unholy Domain in April, I decided to post PeaceMaker to my website as a free download. I also put it up, chapter by chapter, on my MySpace blog. Don’t know how much it helped Unholy Domain, but several thousand readers were exposed to my writing, and I hope they enjoyed the story. PeaceMaker is still being downloaded every day, and that’s a good thing.

Author Information

Simon Haynes

Simon is the author of the Hal Spacejock series, featuring intergalactic loser Hal and his junky sidekick, Clunk. His website contains a number of articles on writing and publishing, and he's also the programmer of several freeware apps including yBook, BookDB and yWriter. In his spare time(!) he helps to run Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Visit site.

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