Self-Publishing: Instafreebie Errata – Tips, Tricks, Strategies
(from the original Latin use of “erro”, meaning to wander from the path.)
These notes from getting active on Instafreebie (and getting over 130 opt-ins in less than two weeks, starting with knowing nothing about this stuff.) What you see here is the stuff discovered about how to profitably use Instafreebie that have been omitted from common knowledge, and so I work to correct these errors.
TIP: Save this page and/or bookmark it. Way too long to read in one sitting. It has tons of data and is regularly updated.
MY LAST UPDATE: See section on “Addicted” (way) below.
What you see here is my work to document a journey using a very undocumented “service” for authors. It’s an interesting read, and full of great data. And now, that journey is done. Over 16K words – a novella if it were fiction.
– Read and follow directions. Every. Single. Time. Fill out everything the way you want to represent yourself or your books. This is a well thought-out service. The directions are simple. Make sure you understand them and don’t assume anything. Best is to first go through the FAQs at support.instafreebie.com
– Be respectful and communicative. Add comments to everything. Treat people as you’d like to be treated. Organizers like to be thanked. Submitters like to be thanked. Leave comments when you do something, even if it’s only leaving a tweet. That tells the organizer you are working at this. Otherwise, (s)he’s going to figure that you didn’t even try. You want the organizer to even invite you to one of their later giveaways. People like nice, they hate trolls. “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
– Provide at least one giveaway book for each of the genres you are writing in. At least one per pen-name. Recall that Blockbusters and Bestsellers are pan-genre – they have some of everything in them. The general strategy is to write in one pen name for each of the three physical plot structures (Mystery, Romance, Adventure.) And you write in short stories and put these up (even if they are collections in order to fit the KDP 2500 word minimum.) Just note that they are short stories in the description. Be painfully honest and transparent at everything you do. You’ll get more respect and build more trust that way.
– Your best approach with no lists is to organize and run the group giveaway. I got this from Nick Stephenson. While you’re at it, run several. Set them up months ahead, and in times where no one else is running a giveaway for your genre. There are a lot more authors than there are giveway organizers. Look over the giveaways for the genres you’ve written in (you have three genres you can assign per book) and see what any organizers are providing.
– Join as many giveaways as you can. As above, I got over 130 opt-ins in less than two weeks once I joined the giveaways. So you send it out to your list, plus Twitter and FB and Google+ and anywhere else you can, even if you don’t have much of a following. (I started with one person on my list.) And then leave a comment in the giveaway that you did something. There’s really no stigma about starting with nothing. As you build what you have, then you’ll get a lot more something to work with. This last week, I send out to my 130+ people and got 90+ to go to my webpage with all the Instafreebie giveaways on it. (OK, so 130 is no big deal? How about 60 new subscribers each week for a year? That’s 3000 for very little work personally.)
– Track your giveaways links with Bit.ly Set up a bit.ly account (free) and create a bit.ly link for each giveaway you are part of. When you add a “+” (plus sign) after the bit.ly link, you will be able to find how many times that link was accessed and when. Organizers have this data on their dashboard. Your bit.ly short link will redirect your viewers and track them for you.
– Don’t worry about genre’s you don’t write in. I do write in Contemporary, but don’t write in YA. Stick to your strengths. I do have one cosy Romance (no obvious sex in it) but the rest of my books have romance as a sub-plot. Many of the YA giveaways are very specific about this, as YA doesn’t have graphic sex in them, and the protagonist is a teenager or young adult (under 30.) Also, don’t write just one book in a genre and expect your potential readers to be satisfied. I could easily write erotica, but haven’t. I’m mastering the Romance genre before I get anywhere near erotica. But I’m getting my Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Detective chops before that. Until I have at least three books in any particular genre, I wouldn’t worry about putting one up. When you do, they’ll then look up the others in that series. (Always write in series and serials.) That is the point of these – to push sales of your other works.
– Read the requirements for the giveways you’re joining. I set up a giveaway for Christmas or Holiday themed books. The two genres were contemporary and fantasy. And constantly have people submitting everything other than a themed book. One author submitted nearly a dozen Romance novels to it, which had nothing even about winter in them. (Duh?) Now I know who that is, and her spammy practices. (Why she is giving away that many books all at once is another questionable practice. )
– Unless you are Exclusive on KDP, set your books up with Draft2Digital. Here you can auto-update links to your other books. They use Books2Read links, which then tell you how many times they are accessed. And Books2Read also creates book pages and authors pages. Your Book2Read author page can be your website page for Instafreebie, and your Instafreebie pen name can go onto your Books2Read author pages. So readers looking up your author will be sent either to your other books by that pen-name, or to free books so they can opt-in. This is exactly what happens. People look up your other books when they get a free one. And if you’re sending them via a Books2Read link, you’ll know where they went to check out that book – and preferably buy it.
– Use a Publishing Imprint instead of an author name or pen name. If you don’t want to opt for the $50/mo. Instafreebie level, then consider doing the $20 level and setting your one author name as your publishing imprint. Then put your author/pen-name in the title of the book. For me, it’s “Midwest Journal Press” and the book would be “Make Yourself Great Again by Dr. Robert C. Worstell” – see?
– Running giveaways: be aware of too many restrictions. I’ve seen organizers force authors to go to another site to use a form to opt-in. I don’t see the reason for this. They are also asking for way too much information to make their decision. I’ve also seen people who won’t take anyone with less than 5,000 people on their lists. Look, we all have to start somewhere, so remember your roots. Allow everyone and network with the ones that get the best results. Building your network with people who openhandedly help others is good advice.
– But stick to your guns in running a genre-specific giveaway. Deny books that are two off-beat. One thing I don’t need is people being run away from the giveaway by erotica or explicit material. Romance covers are all the same – half undressed people (usually male chests and six-pack abs.) Someone looking for SF or sword-and-sorcerer fantasy will go away if all they see is romantic covers, even if they are “romantic” fantasy (light on fantasy, heavy on romance.) This is the point of being professional and paying attention to details. Always work toward the best possible reader experience.
– How to leave blurbs. When you submit a book, it’s suggested you give a blurb. “Great cover, nice description” isn’t a useful blurb. It won’t help people get that book. You’re going to have to download their book and read it as least as much as an editor, so you can write a blurb that will help readers get that book. The trick is that you have to download the book in order to read it so you can have an opinion. So you should actually visit the books already approved, download one, read it, write a blurb. You can only leave a blurb (or several) is inside the admin page for the giveaway itself. You do this on an upcoming or current or completed giveaway. Then there is a nice page so you can see the one’s you got and the one’s you gave. Here is where you pay your karma forward. This is one of the hidden points to Instafreebie. You have to give in order to get.
– The core point of Instafreebie is networking. It’s not list-building. That’s just a side benefit. Same for increasing sales. Sure, the money is nice. The point is to build a collaborative network of fellow authors. This is a cumulative effect is exponential, not additive. Meaning that it increases well beyond just the lists numbers of the authors you add. The math goes like this: every person is able to effectively work with somewhere between 100 to 250 people (called Dunbar’s number.) When you add authors who are knowingly building their own network, then you increase your own by a factor, not just by a single person. Your work then becomes more than the joy you personally get from writing. Or the freedom of nearly unlimited passive income supporting your gifts. The point of your work is to fill and train your network so they fill and train theirs – and so on to potentially infinity. And as these networks grow, they then build by factors into a scope that is probably impossible to imagine. Yes, that last point even surprises me. Theodore Sturgeon said something like “95% of all that’s out there is crud.” The trick to author success is to focus on finding, networking with, and nurturing the 5% who are gold.
– – – –
As I then complete a few of these giveaways that I’ve organized, I’ll have more data to share with you. How to find emails, how to determine if an author is crud or gold, how to train and build your network with networkers. And I’ll share all this with you. Don’t worry, our secret is perfectly safe. Because it’s hidden in plain sight like a Purloined Letter.
– Making your free book exclusive is a good thing. If you’re following the steps I’ve been taking through the Great Fiction Writing Challenge, you’ve seen that I haven’t gone into paid ads anywhere as a first action. Because its a bit of a crap shoot. And most of these plans are Amazon-centric and revolve around your “free days” every 90 days. On the books I’ve put up there, they are full price elsewhere, but can be gotten for free through Instafreebie. And so they are marked “Exclusive” with a free red banner on top of the book cover image. So your book stands out on any giveaway. Simple, yes? The only two books I have that are free everywhere (out of more than a dozen) aren’t exclusive. My books show up as exclusive in every giveaway they are entered in. Nice.
– Giving Blurbs is limited. 1) You can’t blurb your own books. 2) You can only blurb an “author” once – meaning that if you have several books by the same “author”, you can only blurb one of them. 3) You can only (apparently) blurb an author who is in the same giveaway as you are. “Author” is any pen-name. So someone who is going the less expensive route of having a single publisher imprint that covers several authors, only one of those actual authors can get a blurb from another instafreebie account. The Pro version has 5 pen names and so in theory they would have 5 chances to get blurbs from a single other account. This is one area which could definitely be improved, since blurbs show up on the giveaway pages (as I understand it.) Again, don’t leave “Nice cover. Great description.” as a blurb, as you’re wasting a great networking opportunity.
– Getting Your Subscribers Auto-Enrolled Is Simple. But I had to ask support to find it. Every single book can go to its own mailing list. This is set when you enter a book. (Of course, sometimes I forgot and those subscribers just sat there.) And this is good for having multiple pen names under the Pro plan. (You’re going to have to manually import your subscribers under the free plan.) But you can also set a default list for everything, which works if you don’t specify anything for that particular book. On your dashboard page, click on your name and click the Settings link. Then click on Mail Service Integrations to find it. Works good.
– Getting Granular Email Data on Subscribers. You can get what book and what giveaway people join your list for. It’s all there in Instafreebie for a manual download. But I asked how to make it automatic and got this reply:
To have this information appear when subscribers are automatically sent to Mailerlite, you’ll have to add columns for this information in your subscriber list on Mailerlite. You’ll have to add the following fields, and then you should see that information filled when they are sent to MailerLite. Add columns for ‘Book Title’ and ‘Giveaway.’ The merge tags in MailerLite will look like $book_title, and $giveaway. If you want he can also add Genre (merge tag $genre), and Source (merge tag $source). Genre is book genre, and source will always be Instafreebie.
The obvious benefit is to send special emails to those people who liked that pen name, or if that pen name co-authors with another one. After awhile, you can also see which books do best for you and which type of giveaways do best, etc. Tailoring emails to those type of subscribers is what email is all about – building relationships.
– Running A/B Tests on Giveaway Descriptions. Maybe you could improve your description and get more downloads. An A/B test seems a smart move to compare which description converts best. Half get one and half get the other. Currently, only the giveaway organizer can run these, and on any book there in addition to his own. Maybe you want to offer this as a service for people during your giveaway. At least run it on your own.
– Getting Instafreebie to Recommend Your Giveaway. Don’t know how I overlooked this, until I came back to this page as my own go-to reference and found it missing. Here’s part of an email I got from the wonderful people at Instafreebie Support:
We have our own personal guidelines when it comes to group giveaways which helps us select our featured ones:
At least 10 unique Authors participating
Authors should have their own accounts to protect their content and protect readers
Group Giveaway is free for authors to join
Final image graphic to share must be book/genre/author focused, and 1500px by 500px (length by height)
Final duration dates of promotion should be displayed on the graphic/page
In accordance with our Community Guidelines, final image graphic may not include graphic nudity (the Instafreebie staff reserves the right to reject any image graphic at our discretion)
Instafreebie Group Giveaway must be live for a minimum of 3 days after the date of the feature
Instafreebie Group Giveaway Details Page link (link should begin with “instafreebie.com/
groupgiveaway/view“) and graphic must be sent a week minimum before your feature date
In terms of the start day of a group giveaway, we haven’t looked too much into this. But, a common trend among organizers is to start giveaways on the first day of the month or on a Sunday. If you want to be featured by Instafreebie, I would generally recommend starting on a Sunday and ending on a Tuesday. This is because we feature group giveaways on our homepage from Monday until the Monday of the next week regardless of the day it is featured in our newsletter.
– Leeches in Giveaways. That’s someone who is only there for the ride, to get claims without doing anything. Only the organizer can see these. The current giveaway I’m running has just under 30% actually promoting. Adding in those who promote but get no claims (not technically leeching) you wind up just over 21% (And one such leech was a group of professional authors who have banded together to promote their books. Whoever is doing their promotion is faking it.) The way around this is to collect the email addresses of your participating authors. Some do this with an Google form on the description. I’d prefer to set out a reader magnet (like a free course, my current plans) that will then get their email when they sign up. Offer value first.
Since this is running close to the Pareto Principle, you can’t just get some resentment going and back up into just being a control freak and limiting who can join to “only those with big lists.” Again, everyone has to start somehow. And the more books you have in the giveaway, the more people are likely to click on something.
– Leechers as Organizers. I’ve mentioned the organizer “control freaks” above. Add to this the people who insist you pay them for the opportunity to join their giveaway (money or your email address.) Truly, truly dumb. They are leeching off the Instafreebie platform. Because if you don’t see a giveaway you’d like to join, the solution is always to start your own giveaway and run it the way you want it. See the points on limits above. Same for people who use Instafreebie to then collect submissions they run on a different platform. Of course, they don’t get recommended by Instafreebie and miss out. Kinda like taking your playmates and toys to go to your own small and exclusive sandbox. You just miss out on potential friends and networking opportunities. And I simply avoid those “limiter” organizers. Not worth my time.
The main point is to keep these as open as possible and realize that 20% are going to give you 80% of your claims. People who try to suck the life out of the giveaway, or those who don’t contribute, all have their own problems. Work out how to reward the productive individuals and form a team with them. You have to give before you can get – and always give openhandedly (not expecting anything in return.) The object is to really enjoy your business activities as much as you enjoy writing and publishing. Stay away from leechers as you can, but also live and let live.
– How To Get Yourself Blacklisted. Leechers are those who blatantly or quietly don’t contribute to the mutual-trust environment of Instafreebie. Sure, you don’t have to join the giveaways that are run by control freaks, or are out to monetize the Instafreebie platform. But when organizing your giveaways, you can quickly compile lists of people who aren’t doing anything to promote, but have a lot of books there. The worst offender on my current giveaway has 7 books there and has done diddly-squat promotion. Meanwhile, they pulled down nearly 10 percent of the total claims. (Meaning they weren’t allowed again. Or the next guy I found who did that with five books in a giveaway. Sorry, no thanks.)
Does this mean that others would get more claims if they weren’t there? Maybe. Pointing it out to them broadly is one way to put attention on it. Now I see why people want a simple form filled out so they can contact authors directly off-line. It would make the administration smoother, since there is no DM to use on this site, and you can’t get emails from them.
When I get a few of these under my belt, I’ll have a short list of repeat offenders to watch for, and even block. These will be by name, giveaway, date, etc. That particular account that has 7 books up there might get some action. When they are taking 10% of the total, and are the top claimed books, then would this “cut off my nose to spite my face”?
Regardless, I’ll have my list…
– When a Group Giveaway Falls Flat… I found myself surprised by a giveaway that had a short lead time and only myself and one other actually put any books into it. (I was under several pen-names.) So I made lemonade of out it. The solution was to do extra promotion for it, syndicating it out to social media via Buffer on a daily basis and changing the description to say that I would be adding more books every single day, while pointing up the idea that the giveaway was only running for 10 days. I’m also changing the graphic every day with a count-down. The test has a bit to run, but it should do fine. I also told my list to give me any requests for any book I had published and I’d put it in the giveaway. So that helped out.
And I found out that sending just to people who were clicking through (something that was difficult to find out on my earlier email provider) gave me a very good response. Even when the clicks weren’t working (as something was wrong with my new provider.)
– Amazon Continues to Hardball Indie Authors. Three books I had weren’t selling on Amazon and I had them also as giveaways on Instafreebie. I wanted to try a test of Draft2Digital to get their updating service working. Taking just these books off Amazon, and putting them onto D2D, I waited days (instead of hours) to get some word back – only to find that Amazon wouldn’t accept those books as they were “freely available elsewhere.” No, I wasn’t trying to get them into KDP Select. My most polite reaction was: “what a bunch of jerks.” Actually, bullies is more accurate. Lesson is to get them up on KDP directly or through an aggregator before you make them available on Instafreebie. None of my other books have been affected. No other book outlet cares two whits if they are also somewhere else.
Of course, this doesn’t mean I can’t republish them as a part of a collection, later. At this writing, the books are all “Live” again, since they had been in KDP prior, so don’t have to be reviewed to be re-published (apparently.) So they have a double-standard for aggregators. (Not such a big surprise, is it?)
News: Amazon re-approved those three overnight – some 6 hours later. Go figure. Trick is to get them approved by Amazon through Draft2Digital, and then make them into giveaways on Instafreebie (again, you can’t do this in KU/KDP Select. Just 10% samples.)
– Aggregating Author Names with a Google Form. I’d seen this otherwise. People enforcing getting email addresses from people in order to join their giveaway – along with data like size of list and book data. Always irritated me, as it was punishing people for being starting authors with no list. But checking with Support (who are always very wonderful native English speakers) confirmed that they couldn’t give out email addresses and I was on my own to contact them. Other than opting into their list via claiming their book. I then tried out Google Forms, found them simple to set up (and even being alerted when someone filled it out.) So I put this as a free optional form in the description of my giveaway. I’ll keep adding to this list and eventually have one that is all authors that I can contact about joining giveaways. (Separately from that, I have a list someone had sent out to their project people, who’d also given their address. Because they sent it from their gmail account with all the people added as CC’s instead of BCC’s or blind carbon copy. Probably do a trial mailing to these to see if they are interested.)
The point is that if you treat people nicely, then you’ll get a nice response. Force them to do something and the effect is “they’ll run away just as long as you are chasing.”
Put this link at the top of your giveaways as a non-required option. And then put it in your comments of every giveaway on the last day, both the one’s you’re running and the one’s your part of. The people who raise their hands are the ones you want. They are the most active ones, and the ones who probably have good lists. What you won’t get are the leechers, the get-rich-quick crowd. And that is where private giveaways get started that get great results. That’s real networking.
– Analyzing Your Subscribers for Best Books. This is a bit tricky, but more straightforward than you might think. By taking your total Instafreebie subscriber list, you can see which books and which giveaways gave you the best result. Of course, you may have several books on offer in any giveaway, but the ones you see were the first where they opted in to your list. But that will get you started.
The variables are that some giveaways are promoted better by the authors and Instafreebie than others. The reasons are various. Comparing those giveaways with each other will tell you a lot. (See my other post on this – click here.)
By downloading your complete list and opening it up in a spreadsheet, you can start by finding which of your books and which giveaways are best. Then make sure that you are part of any giveaway like this. If no one is offering one, then start these up yourself. You should have your books in all possible giveaways at all times. Better than this is to have your best-claimed books in the best possible giveaways by genre. Cross comparing your completed giveaways with your subscribers will start giving you broad hints about where to test next.
Note: Those blank lines in the spreadsheet where a giveaway should be? You need to go in and set a name for your first giveaway. A blank line means there is no name present.
– Preliminary Results of Giveaway Analyses: Average length right now tends to be about 25 days on giveaways. This summer has a lot of two-week giveaways. But a handful of two-month giveaways are pulling the length back. In general, get your books everywhere they belong, the more the better. Then make sure you actually contribute to all the giveaways to join. I have a page of giveaways, all with Bitly-shortened links so I can see which are pulling. This shows they mainly compete on the quality of their banners. Having a long lead time for giveaways seems to get more books entered. Right now, it seems that putting them out about three months in advance seems a useful investment. How much you want to deal with giveaways will determine how much you want to invest in these. The general rule is to always have one of your own giveaways running, and joining in all the giveaways you can. Meanwhile, collect emails from authors to invite them to yours. (Maybe a useful gift?)
– Verified Organizers and Giving Value. It’s not hard to create giveaways. Running them should be a regular give and take between you and your authors. Again, it goes back to treating people as you’d like to be treated. Becoming a verified organizer is a great label to have. Like “exclusive” on your book, it gives authors another reason to opt-in to your giveaway. One thing Instafreebie looks for is interaction between the organizer and the authors. And giving value is another way to help your authors learn through this process and build up their own list. As well, they will trust you to give you their email address. If that weren’t enough, you have the option of enabling the readers to join your list as well as the authors!
One suggestion would be to take each of these hints above and suggest them in the comments box every few days to help your authors out. And a parting gift (like an instafreebie non-fiction ebook) as a permanent link in the content would probably be a good touch…
– Related Email List Tips. While Instafreebie is great for getting giveaway lovers, our trick is to do careful gardening of our crop to weed out those that aren’t wanted. Because once you pass the limit on your free list, you’re paying to send out emails to these people. Whether they open anything or not. It may seem counterintuitive to be removing people from your list weekly (kinda like spending months on a novel only to give it away.) What you don’t want is people who sign up and never open anything. Or later, they quit opening your stuff. Now I can see where people get busy, so this is what I’ve set up on Mailerlite that I work with weekly:
I set up a segment that has a) anyone who has gotten 5 or more emails from me and never opened anything, and b) anyone who hasn’t opened up an email in the last 90 days. That segment auto-updates regularly, so I have an accurate recount every few hours.
I send out a short email entitled “Still Interested?” and a short explanation that will show up in their email header that starts: “…I noticed you haven’t opened anything we’ve sent you recently…” There is an unsubscribe link on the line immediately after that (which is there to avoid jerks complaining that I’m sending spam.) And then I tell them how I understand completely if they don’t want to hear from me.
If they open it, they stay on the list. If not, I delete them. Note – I don’t unsubscribe them, as it might keep them from signing up in the future. Just delete them.
That keeps the list clean and active. It raises my percentage of opens and clicks.
People are savvy these days. They know when someone is wasting their time with click-baity emails. So I always send something valuable and useful to them. And if they are too busy to unsubscribe, I do it for them. It’s the idea of having 1000 true fans, the ones that will open (and buy) anything you ask them to. A thousand hyper-active fans is worth as much as the 1% of a 10,000 name list who do. But you can mail to a thousand people for free, and pay a lot to mail to 10,000 each week.
Email hygiene saves you money and reputation.
– How to Mail Out Multiple Giveaways. Let your list decide what they want. I put up a page entitled “Free Books” and list all the active giveaways on it. New ones close to the top. My own giveaways at the very top. (Right below my “featured books of the week.”) Then my weekly newsletter – just to the people who came in from giveaways – goes out with a link to that page (and my latest release – both as bitly-shortened links.) I may be in 20 giveaways simultaneously. And several will have truly lousy graphics or none. But the best ones will attract the most, regardless of where they are on the page. Longer-running ones will eventually gravitate to the bottom. Update every week, usually on a Monday, and send it out. While maybe not as effective as just sending it to a single giveaway, it helps all of them a little bit. Bitly links show me how many clicks I got that went where. I customise the name on every Bitly link so that I can see which giveaway it pointed to.
That fulfills any promise to “mail to your list”.
– Using Buffer to Do Social Media. I’m no fan of social media. I’d rather be writing, publishing, or researching. I’ve spent hours with nothing to show for it, and then quit most of these platforms completely. Other than syndicating my content out. I don’t really care if anyone “follows” me. I use it more as a way to leverage all the valuable content I’m publishing otherwise (and I’ve gone over this many places on this blog.) Buffer (and probably HootSuite) are good for simple sending out the same content to different platforms from a single interface. For me, this is Facebook, Twitter, G+. Because Instagram and Pinterest depend on different graphics going up, and my use is to promote giveaways. Sending once a day keeps you on the free Buffer account limits. (Since I always log out of Facebook when I leave them, using a 3rd-party app limits the amount of data they can scrape from me.)
My approach is this:
- Don’t “engage,” syndicate.
- Use one interface only.
- Don’t pay to use free platforms. (“If it’s free, you are the product.”)
– Uses of Pen Names and Imprints. I’ve seen a lot and tested a lot. And what I don’t see many people using is pen names. I got this originally from a couple of sources, but Geoff Shaw recommends this for starting authors. Because you are going to be improving as you go, and if your early stuff might embarrass you later, then use another name. While Instafreebie allows you to have up to five pen names at their Pro level, most beginning authors are struggling to pay their lowest paid level of $20 per month. The work around for this is to have the name there be your publishing imprint (like “Midwest Journal Press”) and then the individual books can be “[Title] by [Author]”.
The trade off is that when other authors/imprints are giving you blurbs, they can only do one per account to another account. Having three or four books up by any given pen name will give you only one blurb for all the pen names you use under that imprint. No big deal, usually.
One advantage to the Pro Version is that I can submit books by all five pen names to that one giveaway, and they show up as separate entities. When I promote, the giveaway organizer sees my actual account name, which doesn’t line up to any of the pen names. But again, I see very few people using pen names at all, let alone figuring out the “imprint” strategy. I got it from one consortium of authors who has someone promoting for them and entering these giveaways on their behalf.
The overall advantage to pen names is using them to separate your genres. Also, the different universes/world-views you are writing in. While you can also set up several Instafreebie accounts with separate email addresses, this is a limited approach due to the differences between services that Instafreebie provides for free and paid users. More than one account would quickly run through anyone’s budget. (But right now, this is all as a series of tests. Obviously, two accounts can blurb each other, but that is pretty limited as I mention above.)
– Why “No Limits” Gets You More – Everything. I’m a great one for mastering the “firehose” approach to content. This extends to giveaways as well. The ones I hate to join are the “control freaks” who want to enforce that you do the giveaway their way or else. Sure, there are Leechers who don’t actually promote the giveaway. And it might be that only 20% of all your authors are actually producing the claims. (Meaning that maybe 50% of the books up there are being downloads and subscribed to for doing nothing.) But look at it this way: You’re building great karma (and the others, well…)
The point of No Limits Approach is to help others as you’d like to be helped. Again, building karma open-handedly. The more restrictive you make your giveaway, the fewer people will join in on it. Of course, we always can’t just do Romance/Erotica or Fantasy/ScienceFiction giveaways. That gets boring real quick. As you complete giveways, you start building a track record of where your books have produced well. And that gives you an idea of what type of giveaways you want to mirror. And new combinations of genres and inspired themes you want to try.
You’ll also see that when a person limits their giveaways to just 10 or 30 books, they are limiting the amount of authors who can join. And so, are limited to the possible amount of people they can reach. Same goes for restrictive forms that “must” be filled out before your book can be “accepted.” The more hoops you have to jump through, the less likely you are to do anything.
This also applies to how long you set your giveaway into the future. If you only give people a couple of weeks, you might only have a few books. Give them a couple of months, and they’ll trickle in and keep filling. The most successful giveaways I’ve been part of so far had well over a hundred books submitted. See how that works?
– Leechers/Freeloaders. Mostly this is the guys who are gaming the system. With a few giveaways under my belt, I only found only two that were really bad about this. Multiple books, no promotion, pulling down a large amount of giveaways. The vast amount of users on Instafreebie usually only have a single book available. And have other problems, like using a free account that won’t give them any subscribers. So you cut them some slack and put in plenty of helpful hints in the comments to give them a clue how to get started. The serious leechers, you simply refuse. They never answer their comments, so are more like scammers than anything else.
– GDPR is creating a mess. But the dust is settling quickly. Instafreebie has had to not recommend any giveaway where there are mandatory opt-in books present. Otherwise, it’s business as usual, regardless of the rumors. A minority few got into a huff and took their books elsewhere or simply ran private giveaways (which also aren’t promoted by Instafreebie that I know of.)
– Best Practices in a Nutshell:
- Have books in all the genres you write in. Instafreebie is a great testing ground for your descriptions and covers.
- Clean/Cosy versions of books in any genre can go into more giveaways. (No explicit sex or violence, no LGBT, no cursing.) But that can be done without trying to write Young Adult versions or dumb down your books. Find some books that were published as mainstream up to the 50’s and you’ll see how those authors and their publishers did it.
- Join as many giveaways at you can, regularly.
- Have one of your own organized giveaways running all the time.
- Work to convert your freebie subscribers into buying fans, always.
- Help other authors openhandedly.
- Collect other author’s emails into a list and keep helping them as best you can.
– Best Giveaways Run On Lists, Not Social Media. I’m no fan of Social Media for authors (I’d rather be writing than liking cat pictures.) Multiple sources have told me that the ROI for time invested in social media is near nil. The giveaways I’ve run show that social media promotion is high on clicks, but low on claims. The probable explanation of this is that only 10% of your organic following will see your posts, due to competition. And 50% of your followers are probably bots. Those bots are great at clicking and retweeting – to other bots. They never claim books. The graphs are different for actual lists. Clickthroughs and Claims are often 10x the views. Instafreebie does like you to hashtag them in your tweets, so they can see what books they should recommend. That’s the only use I’ve found for social media beyond syndicating your work there. Similarly for incoming traffic from social media. They don’t buy anything. Real people will sign up for lists, but not bots. Real people can buy books, but not bots. Use and promote to lists of subscribers, and remove non-openers regularly.
– Build in list non-opener hurdles with automation. You want to remove non-openers from your lists early on. Because once you start having to pay for every email, then the cost goes up. Mailerlite as a nice little segmenting set-up you can use to extract non-openers from your list, regardless of what group they are on. My current formula has flagging anyone who hasn’t opened the last 5 emails, or hasn’t opened anything in 90 days. Once a week, after I get through sending my weekly emails, I send a “still interested?” email to that list. Anyone who still doesn’t open is deleted. Takes about two days. I found this week that if I accidentally re-import them, the data is still there – and they can be easily re-deleted. Nice.
Regardless of the reason for no-openers, they are a drag on your system. By deleting them, they can re-subscribe if they want at a later date. (But will come in with a few strikes against them, as above.)
Another hurdle, for unsubscribes, is to immediately sent an email to them once they subscribe or your import them. This pushes them to unsubscribe as they are going to be hearing from you weekly if they don’t. A tactic I haven’t used yet is to set up an emailed ecourse that delivers every day for 5-7 days. That also forces the issue. I just don’t see that I have to go to that extreme, but it would possibly train your readers to improve their click rates if you have away a bonus like a free PDF to click on every time. Possibly you’d train them to become buyers as well…
An additional tactic I might use is to auto-delete people with 9 or more no-opens. Those have serious problems of oversubscribing for freebies. I probably don’t want them around at all. But that’s just another test…
– Using Instafreebie Pro Plan for Over-Prolific Authors. The trick is using their five pen-names for Publishing Imprints. In those cases, you have dozens (and dozens) of books per imprint. This is particularly applicable to public domain and PLR republishing. (Just the good stuff, though.) Building a list for this seems daunting, until you can put them into their own silo’s. My original fiction and non-fiction would go in as one pen name (Midwest Journal Press.) In those cases, you put the book title and author name all as part of the title, then the “author” becomes your publishing imprint. That’s just a good SEO trick.
My second one would be the Gutenburg 100 top downloaded books (30-days) for both fiction and non-fiction. Of course, you only have the top books there and have to make covers and great descriptions for them. A third would be my collection of PLR books, which are all non-fiction. A fourth would be my agriculture books, both fiction and non-fiction, a fifth would be a project of Public Domain Pre-conflict Civil War books (which have a lot of fiction, but I wanted to concentrate on the Southern viewpoint.) And that would cover all five pen-names on the Pro Plan and also enable me to get subscribers for all these areas, separating them by segments. Lots of work to get the backends working on these. The point of that would be to set up a front-end with Instafreebie where you could actually build a publishing house with five separate imprints.
This is also how you could run a small business with five different authors, which is what they are saying with “pen names.” My use is to build and leverage what I’ve covered before. Still, the $50/month fee needs to pay itself back. Building five lists of subscribers would be a step in the right direction, far more than the limits of just five pen names (when most prolific authors can use as many as 50 or more during their productive lifetime.)
– Blurbs and Pro Plan. I still haven’t personally justified the cost of the Pro plan. As a publisher representing several pen names, I’ve tried only having five. Now, most authors with will used dozens of pen names during their publishing lifetime, for various reasons. The chief advantage of this is if you had an established pen name that was selling well and wanted to keep these separate so you could promote them. If you change pen names, the blurbs stay. If you downgrade, the blurbs are “locked”, essentially meaning they are lost, unless perhaps you re-upgrade. Meaning they would return when you did.
Now this is the response I got when I proposed that last update idea (under 10 above):
When you downgrade to Plus, your other pen names will be locked, so the blurbs written for them will not be visible to the public. If you change your pen names, the blurbs will still appear, and you would be able to hide them if they did not correspond to the new pen name.
Their arguments (whoever “we” is) revolve around privacy policies and rights. (Sounds like GDPR uncertainties.) And the “results” they are wanting again are the point of having successful pen names rather than just test-names you use while you learn the genre. She isn’t seeing the idea of being a publisher, and the attitude of “if you like this author, you may want to try these other we represent.” (In those cases, the “privacy statement” would be for the publisher imprint, not the individual pen-name.)
The trick with blurbs is that many are generic “nice cover” “really want to read” and so will have no problem transferring. Otherwise, just turn them off. Until/unless they expand blurbs to touch on individual titles, they are mostly “authority” buttons to have around. Most authors don’t leave blurbs. Under pen names, you can leave a blurb as that pen name, but I am led to believe you can still only leaven one blurb per account, regardless of the pen name you have.
In short, the pen-name scene (and also blurbs) still need some real workover. And as far as publisher accounts as pen-names, it’s better to apologise than ask someone at poker to look over your hand and give their suggestions how to play.
– How to Get a Hidden Second Pen Name. This is a funny one. When you first signed up, you got an automatic account which had an address something like https://www.instafreebie.com/discover/author/55255/firstname_lastname
When you create your pen name, this can (and possibly should) change to your publishing imprint which then becomes https://www.instafreebie.com/discover/author/55255/Bestseller_Press (for “Bestseller Press.) They are expecting really that an author has one pen name for the Plus account, and no more than 5 for the Pro account. Above and elsewhere, I’ve discussed that the way to have any number of pen names is to change your Plus pen name to a publishing imprint
All good so far, right?
Now you can’t get that original default back – unless you guess it. Because it is still there. Both of those links give you the same display page. Your original account was made from your first and last name from the account set-up. Like above. Test it, it still works. But… it’s the same display as your pen name.
Unless – you select “no pen name” on your book (I can do this on Pro, but have to test it on Plus again by downgrading.)
In that case, you’re book doesn’t show up on your pen name giveaway list.
You can still select it to show up in a giveaway, and it works like normal otherwise. Your book shows up under your own name instead of the pen name (imprint name).
What I used this for was to separate my non-fiction out from my fiction (which was under several pen names.) Now I have a fiction giveaway page: https://www.instafreebie.com/discover/author/8195/midwest_journal_press and a non-fiction page that doesn’t show up anywhere except the organized giveaways. But in those cases, my own name shows up, so that is OK as those are my original books.
One of those hidden tricks no one knows about… Except me and you all.
– What Your Non-Fiction Book and Description Should Look Like. An 800-character sales letter. Headline, bullet-point benefits, hints of extra discount coupons inside the book. And then really have them in there. Books should sell courses or giveaway a no-cost version (via coupon with code) to an intro course. Always, even on fiction, have a CTA at the bottom of each description. “Claim Your Copy Now.” (or similar)
Build your book with Direct2Digital so that you have the additional books by that same author with hot links to them (via books2read.com links.) Make sure you put your affiliate accounts into your book links on Direct2Digital (if you use them for distribution) so you can gain that income and also use Amazon associate account to check sell-through.
All your books on Instafreebie are lead magnets. Make sure they are. Especially if you are on the free IF version.
– Finding the Most Productive Giveaways and Learning From Them. I went through my completed giveaways, which right now run between March and into June. Scraping this data and plugging it into a spreadsheet gave a partial analysis, something for me to test. This is by no means final, just preliminary results. There are several running by Instafreebie staff right now, which are a study of themselves. One of these completed and was in this analysis and showed up on both Most Claims and Most Claims Per Book lists below.
Overall: Best length of giveaway (most claims) runs from 14-30 days. This is clarified a bit below. I found one that ran two months and it was in the lowest quarter of giveaways in this list. There are several running right now that are passing that, so I’ll adjust this with more data.
Giveaway with Most Claims: This was the top 6, which stood out away from the rest.
- Average number of books in giveaway was 140. Top number was 167, bottom number at 107. But their claims weren’t proportional to total number of books.
- Average claims/book was 190
- Average days were 17
- Top two genres were Fantasy and Science Fiction
Giveaways with Most Claims Per Book: The top two were way out in front of everyone else, and were 300 different per book and ahead of the next in line. Top: 852, 2nd: 523, 3rd: 356. So I took the top 10 to sort out this scene and avoid outliers (which are obviously present, and only able to be sorted from the organizer’s “leaderboard” back-end data.)
- Average number of books in giveaway wer 52. Top at 120, bottom at 10.
- Average claims per book was 342.
- Average days were 14 – longest was 21, shortest was 6.
- Top two genres were Mystery and Romance. Note: 5 out of 10 had “cosy” or “sweet/clean” in their titles. Top three were all Cosy Mysteries (Two of the three had genres of Mystery, Crime, the third had Mystery, Women’s Fiction.) The next two had Romance, Contemporary.
What we can learn from this:
- Erotic Romance is not a routine top performer. Out of the top number of claims, the first and third spots were erotica. But the other four spots were either fantasy, science fiction, or both. Of the top ten claims per book, the seventh was Romance, Erotica. The fifth highest top claims per book was regular romance (six-pack abs covers.)
The “top claims per book” (a cosy mystery) had four times as many claims as the “top claims” giveaway (a contemporary erotica.) Meaning they earned roughtly four times as many subscribers…
- In general, the longer before your giveaway starts, the more books/authors you can have that join. Meanwhile, the three top claims per book giveaways had an average of 21. That alone points to the quality of the authors and the effectiveness of their lists, as well as probably having an Instafreebie boost. And the specifics of getting IF behind your giveaway is noted above. (The worst giveaway on this list ran for 30 days in the Business, Education & Teaching, and had 30 books in it, with an average of 1.7 claims per book.)
- Your choice of genre is probably first. Cosy and Sweet/Clean fiction (romances and mysteries) produce more subscribers per book, four times as many as erotic fiction.
- Qualifying for a IF boost is a definite. (If not, you simply soldier on.) While a great broadshoot strategy is to have lots of authors and books onboard, it’s better to run giveaways with authors you know have produced well in earlier giveaways you’ve organized. You want to help out other new authors get started, but your core should be people who do effective promotion on their own. Obviously, if you have a lot of non-promoting authors on board, then they are getting claims without helping out the rest. This then points to networking with productive authors first and then opening it up to the public (to get an IF boost) once you have your best producers lined up.
– The Spam Ban on Delisting Books. Running a giveaway recently, I delisted a set of books where the author hadn’t sent me an “optional opt-in” version of their book. I suspected that only a handful were even getting the emails, so this would also weed out some leechers as well. What I didn’t know is that IF had instituted a spammer-ban so they couldn’t re-submit their book again. Here’s from those great people at IF Support:
Instafreebie built the Group Giveaway feature of our site with spamming/organizer harassment in mind. This means that once an organizer deletes an author’s book from a giveaway, that same book cannot be resubmitted. That being said, if you want to re-add a previously deleted book, you can do so by manually adding a giveaway link to the book to your group giveaway.
Meaning, have the person put their link in the comments so you can re-add it (after you check to make sure its appropriate.)
That had happened to me before. Someone tried to add a full dozen books to my giveaway, all with six-pack ab covers which I prohibited in the description. After I disapproved all of them, they then tried to resubmit them again. Support’s solution at the time was to simply leave them in the queue until the giveaway started. This above solution is much more elegant.
That is also your solution to leechers/freeloaders who submit multiple books and then don’t promote. Once you disapprove any of their books, they can’t submit any more to that giveaway. And as they were never a part of the giveaway, they can’t leave comments. (And as the organizer, you can always delete comments as well.)
This again points to the necessity of authors running giveaways, not just submitting books to others. Because you will be able to compare the list of people who promote against the people who submitted books. And start your own list of authors you don’t want in your giveaways.
– When to Start Your Giveaway, Revised. Instafreebie likes you to start on Sunday and end on Tues. But today I saw that it’s probably a good idea to have your giveaway start on a Saturday. In fact, you should probably organize it on a Thursday or Friday. Reason being: most authors have day jobs and work on this on their weekends. So they are more inclined to social post and mail to their lists when they can get to them. Sure, this is the data off one giveaway, but one I accidentally started on a Saturday. The resulting activity is much better than normal.
So I’ll go through and test this with a few upcoming, as well as go back to see the graphs of the completed ones I’ve been organizing and verify all this.
It does point to the actions of starting authors as a different type than us full-time fanatics. A reason why some authors have only a single book and few people organize giveaways. Just don’t have the time to schedule it around a day job. Probably too tired in the evenings to do much of anything. And family is priority.
This also points to surveying people for good times to do webinars and other training – when people can actually attend, not when its best for the people doing the presentation. Otherwise, you are just repeating a “live” webinar with some canned comments at best.
– When Sweet/Clean/Cozy Isn’t, and Freeloader Problems. https://calm.li/CozySweetCleanFiction I had to go into researching after I had a few scammers (and a few lazy authors) submit books that didn’t look like a problem until I started checking into the book. Actually searching for keywords like “kiss”, “bed”, “sh*t”, and the f-bomb. One “historical romance” actually had an explicit sex act in the introduction! See that article, as it really lays out the ground rules. And I’ve had two authors ask to have their books removed, in all honesty. Those are the ones I would like to have more of, other than their books. (So the solution is to perhaps consider changing their writing styles or get into the similarly profitable YA genre.)
– How to Recognize Scammers Trying to Game IF. I’ve seen this once on Saturday and again today (Tues.) Multiple books by the same author (or Pro account with different pen names) submitting to several giveaways at the same time. Of course, you won’t see this in general unless you are organizing several giveaways through the next few months in advance. The first case was suspicious as they all had basically the same cover, and the word “Duke” (or “Marquiss”) in the title. These were the books that weren’t clean or sweet (and one had that sex scene as an intro.) The other was from an author who has a wide variety of books in several genres. (And I do that, as well.) Unfortunately, this author has been on several of my giveaways and doesn’t promote. I talk about this in the linked article just above. I have a very short list of authors I won’t accept just because they enter multiple books and so suck claims away from authors with only one book there and who are honestly working for claims for everyone.
And by now, these scammers probably know that I know what they are doing. Or should, anyway… The problem with some of these is the “Can’t Fix Stupid” syndrome – AKA “Get Rich Quick”.
– How to Get Your Readers to Throw Away Your Book. The problem is in the front matter. There is apparently a lot of very bad advice out there about stuff to put in front of your reader before they start reading the first chapter. But those people don’t see it from the reader’s experience. Not too surprisingly, most of these books have weak writing, too.
This isn’t directly an IF problem, but is noted here because if you buy into the nonsense out there about marketing, then you’ll wind up with books that only freebie seekers like. The start in getting your free book opt-ins over to buying fans is to write a damn good book.
The key point always, is to work for best reader experience. A great book is what will give you devoted fans. Putting crap in the front matter of your book just lowers the quality of your book. If you have to give acknowledgements, and dedications, put them in the back. Put your “more books by” page in the back. And I know this violates what the “let’s game Amazon” crowd says, but put your list opt-in in the back. Do Not Write Prologues. Start your book in high gear. If you left something out that is key, then write a new first chapter and renumber the rest. Have your character show the way your new world works, the reader will figure it out quickly.
Start with the first chapter right after the Table of Contents. Get them involved from the beginning. Feed Your Readers, Get Them Hooked, Fatten Them Up into Fans by the end of your book. Each book.
How to get around the Amazon “look-inside” problem? A one-line comment that a special bonus is at the end of the book. Something they can flip by to get into the book.
This came up as I’ve been reading a few hundred books now by IF authors, in order to write blurbs. And right now, out of them the 90% crud (Sturgeon’s Law) holds – I seldom got through the first chapter. But the ones that took me through to the end made me into real fans of that author.
The solution is to apply Heinlein’s rules and make the next book always better than any you’ve done before. And, “Read what you love, Write what you love.”
– The Problem With Too Many Giveaway Books, Not Enough Time. Just saw this in someone else’s giveaway. Over 200 books, but only a week for the giveaway itself. Lots of claims, but low claims per book. Big giveaways probably should be extended. Again, the averages I saw for the big giveaways were about 160 books average and just over three weeks in length. Highest claims per book were with around 40 books and ran for two weeks.
All that said, I just negotiated an IF feature by adding another week to one of my giveaways – running it for three weeks instead of two. (Look for a later update on how “verified” giveaway organizers can get nearly all their giveaways featured.)
– The Over-vocal Few Who Try to Poison The Well. (An update on Sweet/Clean/Cozy results.) There are a tiny few people who think they can simply spout off anything they want and complain to Instafreebie Support – just in order to get their jollies. To a degree, this works. But what they are actually doing is getting themselves shadow-banned by everyone else who experiences this. Your brand is built by your actions. When they leave poisonous/hateful comments, they wreck the experience for everyone else. Hanging their own dirty laundry in public so everyone has to see it. People can forgive, but seldom forget. And in those cases, it is the responsibility of the organizer to delete such troll comments.
There is one small minority of people within a particular genre who complain if you forbid their books from being submitted to any giveaway it is discrimination – but the problem is that they themselves won’t run giveaways for that genre (a ghost town, like some others.) What actually happens is that people quit forbidding them outright and simply won’t approve them – ever.
There are organizers who set their descriptions and weed out those who don’t belong. And there are those who petulantly want their way, regardless.
Now there are scammers who simply don’t read descriptions. (Like a tiny number of “authors” who submit erotic books to clean romance giveaways.) But the old phrase is true: you can’t fix stupid. Success is due to persistence and the Golden Rule. You have to take the long view of things. So you’ll “live and let live” as a general policy, but also realize that “once burnt – twice shy” applies. When you get a complainer on your lines, you’ll never be able to satisfy them. The simplest solution is to delist their books and delete their comments. Meanwhile, stick to your guns. Keep doing what you know is successful.
This doesn’t mean you take actions against naive newbies. But smart newbies will learn from their mistakes. And will eventually make it if you keep helping them. The people who believe in trolling are their own worst enemy, and reap the whirlwind as a result. Run a few giveaways of your own and check your results. Scrape the data and spreadsheet it. You’ll see a tiny few names coming up who won’t promote your giveaways. Shadow-ban those that submit multiple books and you’ll be better off. Again, you’ll start attracting the truly big stars who can get you thousands of claims daily. (I’ve recently found that limiting submissions to a maximum of 2 seems to work – as long as you watch on your end.)
TIP: Every time I’ve removed books which were questionable or actually scammers, I’ve never heard back. But I have experienced a lot more books suddenly showing up as submissions. Where I’ve removed someone who is active, they are polite and I work with them to get a qualified book resubmitted – or restore their book if I was in error.
The result of the above is to attract excellent authors with much bigger and more effective lists than mine. And so I work to be part of their giveaways and get them onto my own list of authors so I can stay in touch with them. And that helps us all win.
– The Flawed Submission Approval Process. Apparently, the fastest way to qualify a book is to approve it, claim it, analyze it, and delist immediately. It makes more work. But is the only way I know right now. Implementing Sweet/Clean/ Cozy found this. Because a handful of books will sneak through where they author things f-bombs and foul language are acceptable, as well as on-screen sex. So you simply search for terms that will reveal them (I won’t repeat them here.)
There are far more giveaways that allow erotic and trashy books than those who require Sweet/Clean/Cozy. The latter are more profitable. Always have been.
It’s a few minutes more per book, but the few who show up as trashy generally have all their books written that way. So you know who to reject on your other giveaways. Sequence is – if their cover and description are OK – approve the book, claim the book, analyze the book, delist immediately (same day) if objectionable. Then the person gets an approved an disapproved email from IF the same day. And you’ll probably never hear back from them as most are scammers. If you do, then tell them what they violated and ask for a clean book.
Note: Science Fiction and Fantasy don’t have cozy sub-genres – and mostly are. Romance is the main genre that is steeped in on-page sex and foul language. If you run a Cozy Mystery or Clean Romance giveaway, expect to check every single book. Just the way it is.
– Organizing Giveaways: Optimal Length. A caveat right off is that things change constantly. Analysis over years will give probably the most accurate data. The two data I operate on are:
1) Get representative books available to join the genres you like to write in. Since the most popular books include romance, mystery, and action, that gives you a wide variety of genres you can put any single book into (as long as you actually have those three elements in each one.) Short stories and novellas are much easier and faster to produce than huge novels. And allow you to test your skills in different genres. Setting generally sets genre more than anything else.
2) Always have a giveaway of your own running.
Length of giveaways seems to be settling down at 3 weeks. Starting dates are probably best on Saturdays and ending between Tuesday and Friday. That all depends on how much promotion you want to do with comments before you start, and how much analysis you want to do when the other completes.
In six months or so, I’ll revisit this. Every giveaway is a new test.
– Fads in Romance Expose Scammers. You probably only see this as an organizer, but can find this out by scraping your completed giveaways into spreadsheets. Romance has a problem in that people want the same plot, but different locations. Also, it has been high selling for years (but has been declining.) The covers usually have a naked male torso on them (because naked female torsos are commonly censored.) All that means is that scammers can produce these in volume, as they are formulaic. The only real scene is needing a hundred thousand words or so. I imagine somewhere out there, they have a copy/paste/edit formula for a generic romance which only requires some Google searching for locale in order to generate a new book simply.
I don’t write on-page romance or erotica, so I am an outsider looking at this. As an organizer, I simply kick out naked male torso covers (six-pack abs) when I’m asking for SF/fantasy. Because that’s a romance with a SF/fantasy setting. That also includes kicking out erotica and LGBT. (And non-fiction, etc.) Readers are there for a specific genre, not some titillation. It’s keeping the reader expectations valued as an organizer, creating a brand for the organizer. (My answer to complaints of “discrimination” is that they should organize their own giveaways. The vast majority of complainers don’t.)
When I saw a new “verified” organizer come up with five more giveaways, I didn’t jump on board right away. Because I’m actually already in some 30 giveaways and consider that I need to promote to these. When I chased up their back-trail, I started seeing the nude torsos in all their giveaways. Means they aren’t keeping romance where it should be, and have diluted their brand.
The other scam I’ve seen is in the historical romance, where you see women in long gowns on the cover. I saw this when someone was submitting a number of books with “Duke” in the title. All with different author names, so that meant they had some Pro IF account for the pen names. But they all had on-screen sex in them at least once (yes I had to claim and search inside to find these.) I ended up having about 7 of these type books submitted to several clean romance giveaways I was running at the time. (Which is another argument for setting out several giveaways over about 6 months time and then having them fill as they can. You only run one per week, but you can see the scammers hit them all at once.)
What I haven’t chased up is how many freeloaders are in these giveaways. When you see several authors with several books, they’d all better be producing as well. Any regular organizer can easily compile lists of multi-submission non-promoters and then shadow-ban them.
The backend of these scams probably are sending their subscribers to Amazon for “other books in the series” as well as new launches to pick up their .99 specials. The problem with this genre is that the bottom is dropping out, and the average price for all romance books on Amazon is below the $2 mark and nearing 99 cents. Typical supply and demand. And why excluding anything except “clean” romance from giveaways will get a higher claim per book in your giveaways.
(All this points to the need for working out how to select your giveaways as an author – a future Update.)
Romance scammer problems are the same as ours – converting freebie claimers into buying subscribers.
It also predicts limiting giveaways to a single genre in the future. All to build your brand as an organizer.
Note: Romance has been declining in sales for more than two years at this point. And prices for their 300K-word books are now averaging 99-cents each. Scammers that are just now hopping on the bandwagon aren’t very smart or well-informed.
– When the Organizer is Dumping Giveaways. Similar to what China has done in order to take over American markets – flood the area with giveaways for all sorts of genres. I just saw an organizer who has set up 6 or 7 giveaways to run all on the same date. Now the appeal they promote is a 5-figure mailing list. But if you are splitting this among all those giveaways, it means their effectiveness will be diluted. (Like Instafreebie has a 6-figure mailing list, but being featured will only get you a few thousand claims – which is quite useful for most of us.)
This dumping organizer’s brand is too broad. And (as noted above) they are accepting romance books into all their giveaways.
Since most authors have a single book (and no list) this is probably a failing approach. But as a verified organizer, they can also get subscribers to join their own list. But that option is turned off. Meaning: clueless. And: Stay away.
Like these “authors” who try to dump 6 or 7 books into a single giveaway, but can’t bring enough claims to earn their share (if they bring any claims at all) – these giveaways have all the earmarks of a scam.
You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) be all things to all people. You should focus on what you are really good at and then gradually expand into other areas. The reverse is to write in many genres (or create books that cross genres) and find out which of these are most popular – then narrow down to just those genres (or sub-genres) for now.
Note: with Instafreebie’s update, the Verified Organizer trying this stunt is also harvesting subscribers to his own list. Nothing wrong with that, but weigh your participation as valuable. Who you support should be worthy of your support.
IF is a great way to test market your covers and hooks without having to write the whole book. It’s also a way to test your books as reader magnets.
The idea here is to use Instafreebie to test and hone your marketing for that book. If you only write the first few chapters, you can see if that approach is going to be market-ready without investing a huge amount of time in writing it. (Meaning it could save you a full year of work in some cases.) Samples, novellas, and short stories are all perfectly acceptable on giveaways, provided previews are labelled as such. (Of course some organizers only want completed full-length novels. And a few have found that short stories are very welcome these days.)
The trick is that your description has to lead into your book, so that the book starts out with the same hook (but not the same words) and then builds your world and main characters. The first few chapters should be enough to hook the reader into wanting more. And then they have your opt-in form right there.
If your cover or description doesn’t convert to claims, then you work on those. If your book doesn’t work as a lead generator, then you can improve that from there.
In some genres, there are so many giveaways running at the same time, you can easily put 3 test-samples in several giveaways to see how they will do before investing a huge amount of time into them. This approach then gives you market-ready books that are more responsive in any book outlet. (This doesn’t let you out of promoting all the giveaways you are part of, but that is more an organizing structure you may need.)
Instafreebie can be that tool for you. Note: you don’t even have to have a paid IF account for this, in fact that is the best way to test your book as a lead generator…
Getting your giveaway featured. As a Verified Organizer, they actually like you submitting your giveaways to them for listing in their weekly newsletters.
I recently found out you can only have one feature per month per genre. So I asked them, “what if I had a giveaway that was on both fantasy and science fiction?”
Here was the response I got:
We can feature one Giveaway that would go in a different Newsletter per month. We have five Newsletters that go out every week– Romance (Monday), Mystery/Thriller (Tuesday), Fantasy (Wednesday), Science-Fiction (Wednesday), YA (Thursday).
If you’ve already been featured in one of these Newsletters, we will go with whichever we feel better fits the space. I can’t really say which Giveaway we would go with because it’s dependent on a number of things. If we need to fill spots in a Newsletter, we will generally do what we can to have at least 1-2 per Newsletter (again, depends on the day and the popularity of Group Giveaways in that genre).
When you have a Giveaway that is a combination of any of these two, we will typically feature them on Fridays. This depends case-by-case, but I can say that your Sci-Fi/Fantasy Group Giveaway would most likely be featured on Freebie Friday because it’s pretty clearly split between these two genres.
Note the five key giveaway genres they feature.
I just updated my analysis for July (yes, I know we aren’t done with that month yet) and compared 83 giveaways I’ve been part of since March.
The short summary of this is:
- Top claims are led by Romance/Erotica, followed closely by Science Fiction with Fantasy and/or Action-Adventure.
- Most claims/book were usually either Cozy Fiction or Clean Romance.
- Top claims averaged 140 books over three weeks.
- Most claims/book were about 26 books over nearly 14 days.
I don’t write erotica, so that leaves me out of that as an organizer – and that type of reader won’t be much interested in cozy or clean books.
The key is to get all your giveaways featured with Instafreebie, and (without killing yourself off) would be to run 1.5 giveaways per month, having an SF/Fantasy for most of a month with 2 two-week mystery and then romance giveaways the next. Just to break up the monotony of running the same giveaways every month.
The other point is that most authors write in only a single genre, and only promote once per month. So going three-weeks on your Mystery/Romance giveaways, with an overlap on the 15th, and alternating these on alternate months (with the SF-Fantasy in between.
Again the reason you don’t kill yourself off with that many giveaways is list fatigue.
That is the next hurdle to approach. (Something I’m starting to experience now. Expect an update on this soon.)
Hard Core Data on Cozy/Clean Reader Expectations – Rather than make another post, I’m going to post these links here (even though this post is ridiculously overlong already.)
This follows up on the necessary work to get free downloads from Instafreebie over into fans.
You’ve seen the analysis above where I found that Cosy Mysteries and Clean Romances were getting 2-3 times or more claims than regular Romance or Science Fiction/Fantasy. Getting conversions after you giveaway your book depends on how well you wrote it and fulfill the reader’s expectations. (You can see this in Romance, where almost all the covers have a naked male’s six-pack abs.)
I dug around in my various hard drives to dig up what data I had on these, as I knew I’d downloaded some data on these from earlier. Then worked these up as short links (note: are all affiliate links.)
These are the ones I’m going through right now to improve my books to get more claims and convert more readers to fans (not particularly in order):
Note: I’ve created a page with all the videos I could find on many of these above: https://livesensical.com/k-lytics-reveals-hidden-high-profit-fiction-writing-genres/ It also explains a bit more of how Alex Newton is finding these hot markets for your writing.
Visit those links and watch the video, read the sales pitch for yourself. Most are about $37 and that is low cost for what you are getting as value.
Here’s an overview with the available videos I could scrape off YouTube: https://calm.li/K-LyticsRevealsHiddenGenres
Is Instafreebie an end-all? No. I’ve recently gone through a massive unsubscribe scene after they changed their opt-in process. And by dumping out people who aren’t opening, you lose some more. In the last two weeks, my total subscribers have gone backwards each week, despite still adding more than a thousand per month.
Overall, this takes courage. And faith in weeding your garden to get the best crop. This isn’t any numbers racket. A thousand true fans that open and buy everything you produce is better than 10,000 fans where only 1% does. Less expensive in time and money.
This points to not mailing so frequently, and to dropping out of participating in giveaways that don’t result in your type of readers. Like romance/erotica compared to romance/women’s fiction.
My current plans are to run only a single giveaway each month, and only in three main genres. I’ll still join as many as I can, but won’t be joining as many. I’m also going to improve my own game in writing, making covers, and descriptions.
The idea subscriber would be one who bought your book, and liked it. Giveaways seem a number game.
As well, there’s a funny trick where you can actually purposely not pay to get your books sent to your list. Just like an Amazon free book, they’ll sign up for your mailing list if they think your writing meets their expectations. I created some free accounts and am testing this, but it will take awhile…
Heard from the LGB* Trolls wagging IF by its tail yesterday. As you can tell, I’m still unhappy with being discriminated against. You’d think that a white, straight male could say that LGB* isn’t possibly Clean Romance. Even if it’s only his opinion. Nope. The “tolerant” litigious minorities apparently have more “free” speech rights than the rest of us…
The rest of this rant I added to my Clean/Cozy/Sweet description: https://calm.li/CozySweetCleanFiction
The bottom line is that any organizer can accept or reject any book for any reason. I don’t have to say “No LGB*” to enforce it. Not that such would matter – I reject maybe a third of the submissions I get for Clean Romance and Cozy Mysteries because they simply don’t read the description. Bare male torsos on covers, Erotic in their tags. And so many authors with such deficient vocabularies that they have to used f-bombs and ‘sh*t” consistently.
Figure that it’s just the way this stuff goes. Like I said, and include on all my giveaways, I can and will refuse or delist any book for any reason at any time. Having to accept and review (and then delist any offending book) for each submission just takes more time. (Sigh.)
(PS. This also points to the problem of being on social media. IF considers that the trolling on social media is important to their bottom line, while the amount of claims people generate from social media is nearly none.)
Why Verified is a Gold Mine for Building Your List – This is all just preliminary. And I’ve had to wait months to get this data in. But my first giveaway as a Verified organizer is close to completing. It shows that I’ve gotten around four times more subscribers in addition to what my own books have generated. And it takes extra effort to actually subscribe to the giveaway.
We still have to see if these stick around or unsubscribe.
And this makes it possible to generate a list just from Free Plan authors who are only starting out. (Which means another test…) The benefits of such a giveaway (and the extra work of ensuring that only free plan authors were approved) would be to give out tips to starting authors on how to build their books and get started on Instafreebie. (Again extra work.)
But the argument can be made that the best subscribers would come from the links inside your books. And being a Verified Organizer would be one way to make all this work pay for itself. Essentially, you are setting up to get 100% of the subscribers for that giveaway. Yeah, weird. Worth a test…
Polluted Genres – Romance and Women’s Fiction. Lots of scammers in there, pitching books as “romance” which are mostly keyword-stuffed sex books. Also, there are some questionable books trying to pitch deviant lifestyles to women. Simple to filter out, but the best thing is to not include these genres in your giveaways at all. Unless all you write is romance. Women’s Fiction is about empowering women as role models, as heroic main characters. But extremists are trying to push their views here, so I’m leaving it alone. Mainly the point of this is to streamline the time I have to spend on sorting through submissions. Keep your giveaways to only one genre.
Clean Romance/Cozy Mysteries – let other people run these. Too much time filtering these out. If you want to run a clean romance, then just put it up as Teen/YA with no Romance named as a genre. They’ll find you – but it’s a smaller genre on IF/PW.
The caveat on Romance is to reject all bare-chested covers in Mystery, SF or Fantasy – people are expecting Mystery, SF or Fantasy, not a romp in the sheets. Again, Romance is polluted with spammers. I’ve gone through and removed the romance genre from all the giveaways I’ve still got up. And simply letting these older ones come up and run out. I have written romances, and most of my books have a romance sub-plot. But the people who have come in through romance to my list are smaller than all the rest. With the difficulty of promoting these giveaways on IF/PW, I’m simply moving on.
Verified Authors Lead to Massive Giveaways – yes, the better numbers of claims per book are found in Cozy Mysteries. Current test is to only submit my own books through additional free accounts, and rake in the emails as an organizer. This tests the opt-in links in your books – which then flow to another list entirely, because this will come from readers. Cosy Mysteries put your verified status at risk, since you attract a limited number of authors who have very active lists – and can dwarf your own efforts. To stay above the 30% mark, then you want a huge list of small-to-no list authors to sit way down on the list. So you want the big numbers of books, which means putting your giveaway out months in the future and opening it up to anyone (mostly.) There isn’t time to have to stop and verify books. It’s a numbers game.
Contacting Authors Via Completed Giveaways – a little known option for organizers is to send emails through your old giveaways to authors who have participated in those. Just leave a new comment with the link, send it to “all authors” and IF/PW will send it out through their email system. It will get the non-spammers who are actually still getting comments
Conversions Are the Bug-Bear – Expect to lose over half of your IF/PW opt-ins in the first few months. Remove all the no-opens fast. Then look for people not opening them after 90 days, but try to get them back into the fold, at least once. (Like you would want to happen to you – people can get busy.) Otherwise, treat them as readers and buyers. That will start weeding out the rest of the freebie-seekers.
The idea on this is to segment your list by clickers, genre, pen-names. Then start sending out new releases and books coming off pre-order to these. Sure, keep these real, but promote your books to them as a service, not some hard-sell nonsense.
Again, you’re not looking for a huge list that is expensive to mail to. You’re looking for 1,000 true fans who will support you constantly because they read and love your books. IF/PW is still hands down the cheapest way to get subscribers. And Verified Organizers seems the best way to aggregate them. Figure that you are in a very weedy garden, and you have to pull out the ones that aren’t going to make a crop.
My Current Approach and Test – Simply run giveaways, once a month for each genre and promote these to those particular lists. I’m dropping the approach of being part of all possible giveaways. All my promotion needs to go into my own giveaways. (I may later join giveaways that are specific to those few genres above, but only if I feel I can spare the time.) This then becomes having three main genres – Mystery, SF/Fantasy, and Teen/YA (for my romances.) Since these giveaways only run for a month, I may extend them to run until the next time my giveaway is in that area – or just join other giveaways to have something fresh in there for that month. Far more selective, based on best reader experience.
IF/PW IS Audience Building – And this week, proving the model, I had only one subscriber in my “No-Opens” segment. Meaning that once you clear out the freebie-seekers, they don’t particularly come back. That said, once I did manually import the IF/PW subscribers, I got 7 “suddenly” showing up. So I really need to start unsubscribing them instead of merely deleting them. Nice they like my books, sad that they are freeloading.
That Mid-List Publishing Formula (Pulp Fiction Writing-Publishing for Beginning Authors) really laid it out and confirms the Content Inc content-business model. This week’s Fiction Writing Challenge confirms it. Mike Shreeve laid out the argument and reasoning for mid-list publishing as a viable alternative. He paid to give away over a million books in order to get his “1,000 true fans.” (Although technically, if it is truly only a thousand fans, and that is 5% of your overall audience, then you need only 20,000 given out. With a million, this meant he had 50K “true fans” as a result. Mark Dawson recently says his mailing list is over 50K.
Cranking that out with my own results, I’ve seen that you have over 50% drop off in the first three months. And only some 30-40% opt in to your list.
So if Shreeve spent to get a million copies given away, he had 300,000 opt in. Then 150K remaining at best. (the jury is still out on an annual percentage-remaining number.) The 5% would be in that 300K, or about 15K “true fans.” And that gives us a number to factor into our costs. Those 15K need to be buying enough books to cover the costs of mailing to the entire 150K list. Or – there is more weeding out to be done, until you probably have just the 20% of readers who routinely click on your content and bring you any income at all, while 4% (20% of 20%) are those “true fans” who provide some 60% of your total income.
All number crunching. Giving you 32K that pays you to really work with.
I’d stopped my giveaways when my weekly costs of maintaining a list was getting way above any book sales. Again, you have to start out writing and publishing, but quickly lay out and get in a conversion program that pressures subscribers to either start supporting the author or quit wasting his money. Harsh, but book publishing needs to be profitable to stay in business. We write what we love, but starving in a garret isn’t my style.
What Works In Organizing Giveaways – Mainly, just a few points:
- Get verified as an organizer.
- Organize giveaways monthly for every main genre you are in – or rotate through the months.
- Set these giveaways up about three months or so in advance.
- Get at least a hundred books/authors in your giveaways.
- Leave them open for a month – makes your administration easier, and allows everyone to participate with their mailings (usually once a month on average for most.)
TIP: Extend them right at the end so they are open another few weeks or a month – this gives you additional chances for your own mailed list to keep you in the top 30% of the promoters.
The other main use of long giveaways is to aggregate A/B tests on descriptions. I’ve found that the 800 character description on Instafreebie is close to universal standard for a marketing hook. A/B tests in your giveaways will then tell you how these run. Having your own books in your giveaways should always have an A/B test on (preferably all) your descriptions.
This adds to the other main point of success on Instafreebie/PW, which is to join in as many giveaways as possible. You’re paying by the month for this, so you need to be getting as much mileage as possible out of your investment…
Of all the authors on a giveaway, probably 50% of them won’t/can’t promote.
If you limit your authors to two books per giveaway, you discourage the freeloaders or limit their effect. Some authors will promote one giveaway and not another. Nature of the beast.
Best organization is to push one per month (per genre). Drop the genres that don’t produce for you.
So the best-organized giveaways will have lots of books in them from lots of authors, and everyone gets a tiny piece of the pie. A verified organizer can get the largest piece as people can also opt-in to his list as the organizer. Plus, if said organizer is also a prolific organizer, he can put as many books of his own into the giveaway at the last minute. (I’ve never seen anyone notice this or even say anything about that. Because the reply is: “So? How many do you organize?”
The highest number of claims per book are the the hardest to set up and maintain a quality giveaway. (Cozy Mysteries, Clean Romance)
Best above these are doing newsletter swaps, where you are trading your similar readers for theirs, hopefully giving great value to your own readers and getting great subscribers in return.
I’ve had no good experience with trying to reform spammers. If they have lousy (cartoon) covers and bad descriptions, then they don’t seem to change. I saw one who was a consistent spammer (lots of books, no promotion) who came out with a “three-box set” – that he wasn’t honest enough to say was a preview. So I deleted his book when someone complained.
But again, this is 8 months of putting up with the guy and shadow-banning him. GRQ is one of the worst addictions to cure. It’s a locked-in mindset.
(Kinda FINAL) UPDATE 27:
Addicted – I don’t know that the whole scene of going after generic giveaway subscribers isn’t an addiction. When I was getting a few hundred a week new subscribers, but the book sales weren’t increasing, something seemed wrong.
Sure, I got to be a “Verified” Organizer, but the ones who were generating any decent income from this were actually building a list of people who wanted free books and freebie seekers. Their business model was similar to Bookbub, where they promote cheap or free books and get paid for it. Those subscribers then join those authors lists, where in turn, the authors need to keep providing free books, or those “subscribers” will leave.
And so I’m winding down all my giveaways, and working to just run a single giveaway (or join someone else’s) each month for each genre I write in. And work on finding other authors with similar books that I can promote and do newsletter swaps with them.
This will then wean my list off the constant giveaway-fever that I have to maintain as a part of the Instafreebie “Community” of authors. You’re expected to promote all the giveaways you’re part of, and have to be in the top third of the promoters for the giveaways you run.
Otherwise, you have to keep spending $20/month for the privilege.
Crap. For beginning authors, that’s a pricey penny to begin with.
Free subscribers are very expensive.
It’s an addiction that is a little cheaper than coffee, a lot cheaper than cigarettes, and way cheaper than cocaine or meth/painkillers. Regardless, its an addiction. If IF/PW isn’t taking your money, then the email service providers are.
The highest-prized subscriber is the pure organic one- that comes in from your ads after they’ve read your book.
Next best is to “borrow” some other author’s list where they are already trained into buying books.
After a year of Instafreebie, my statistics show over 50% of these “free” subscribers disappear, after between 30 and 40% of them actually opt-in once they claim your book.
And freebie seekers aren’t known to finish books. But putting an ad in the front is lousy reader experience.
My test of Instafreebie is officially over.
The results: Not worth it. (And go figure – they are the best of the bunch.)
At the end of February, I’m reverting to the free plan, as most of my giveaways will be expiring. And I’ll be shifting over to Story Origins, which is free for now, and has a built-in newsletter swap service as well as mandatory opt-in for book giveaways. 50% of 100% is better than 50% of 30%. I can live with that expense.
The bottom-line, long-haul approach seems to be this:
- Write a lot. The best quality you can. Get them available everywhere you can – exclusive nowhere. Get people to opt-in from your site and from every book.
- Go organic and ignore the temptation to get blank-faced freebie-seekers as subscribers. Quit wondering why your books aren’t selling when you release them. Train your own list to help you and encourage them to leave if they won’t.
- Network with other authors who have (presumably) trained lists that support the authors they like.
- And, as usual, test everything. Ignore conventional wisdom. (Or do the opposite.)
PS. Their name change is stupid. They sucked me into a “course” on kickstarters which turned out to be a mandatory “experience”. They got about 12 people to start, and only 3 people went live. All twelve were expected to. (Which was a surprise, since that isn’t what was promoted.) Kickstarters are time-sucks – if you can afford your covers and proofing, then you don’t need them. If this is where the management of IF is taking them, then look for an implosion in a few years. Too major a shift. (And I would be more polite, as most of the IF people I’ve dealt with were extremely helpful – but the “person” in charge of the kickstarter “course” was way too insistent and blamed me when I elected out. As usual, a person will tell four people if they liked your service or product, and ten if they didn’t.)
Like most author services, it’s great if you have money to burn. Most authors don’t.
(Possibly) FINAL UPDATE 28:
Crunched my year of subscribers from Instafreebie. Not great, not bad.
I’m left with about 40% of all those who opted in through Instafreebie claims. Because I drop anyone who doesn’t open their first five emails (about 25%.) Then I drop anyone who doesn’t open emails in the last 90 days (another 23%). And then the gradual attrition takes over and costs me about 1 percent each month for 6 months.
The good news is that I still have 3500 subscribers. The not-so-good news is I can expect this to drop by another 25 percent or more as I let go of the non-openers during the next six months. The best news (if you can call it that is that I should be left with a solid core of really good openers and clickers. About 1750 or so of them.
A sidebar is that Instafreebie’s own list of 350K subscribers is probably 2/3rd’s Romance readers. And hardly any non-fiction readers.
The solution will be a combination of using Instafreebie as a free account, replacing giveaways with StoryOrigin, and running Facebook (yuck) ads – all in addition to improving my organic reach through revising my books with better giveaways.
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Also published on Medium.