Marsha Canham's Blog

August 4, 2011

More shameless self-promotion…and a question

Filed under: Caesars Through the Fence — marshacanham @ 2:46 pm

Actually it’s an inner debate I’m having, and have been having since last week when Amazon FINALLY dropped the price on Through A Dark Mist for a freebie promotion I was attempting.  I’ve been attempting it for a month now, but the powers that be at the Big A tend to pick and choose who they want to wave their magic wand over and who they don’t. 

Bit of background here…

Back in March, Smashwords ran a read-a-book promotion where a lot of authors got together and offered their books free for a week via coupons. I was in Florida at the time and woke up one sunny morning to find an email from a fellow author asking me how I had managed to get the Big A to make my book, Swept Away, free.  You can’t just go to Amazon and change the price if you’re trying to be a good, kind, friendly, nice author and give your readers a deal for a week or two. The lowest price you can set there is .99 and if you do, it instantly cuts your royalties from 70% to 35%(which I never have understood *why* it does, but it does).  Anyway, I went HUH? Checked the Amazon page for Swept Away and sure enough, it was marked down to free.  I had no idea at the time, having had my books uploaded less than six months at the time, that a free promo was a GOOD thing.  I didn’t know at the time that authors have to jump through ten kinds of hoops to get their books free over there and that, like a loss leader in a grocery store, it gives readers who may not have given your book a glance at $2.99, an opportunity to try your writing for nothing and if they like it, they may pick up one or two others to try.  I never was good at marketing or business smarts LOL.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

So anyway, I instantly panicked and got in touch with Amazon and said hey! Whoa! Why is my book free?  A very nice gentleman wrote back almost instantly and explained that the Big A price matches other distributors, and because it was free at Smashwords, they made it free at Amazon.  I wrote back again and explained it was only free through a coupon promotion, that the price hadn’t changed, and that in fact the promotion was already over.  He wrote back again and said oh, okay, we’ll adjust the price back to what it was immediately.  Which he did.  However, in that 24 hr period, 38,000 free copies of Swept Away were downloaded. And to my surprise and willy-thrillies, The Wind and The Sea reached the Bestseller lists as well.

Too late, I noticed the boost in sales for the other three books I had uploaded at the time. Modest boosts, but boosts nonetheless.  I wasn’t the only author who noticed, and suddenly it was game on to see if you could actually focus a campaign around getting a free book at Amazon.  Julie Ortolon was the first on the Backlistebook group to organize, plan, and launch a campaign around her newly released Perfect trilogy, and the results amazed everyone in the group. She shot to the top of the bestseller lists in Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as well as Apple and Sony, and because she offered book one of that trilogy free, sales on the other two in the series also shot up into the top ten lists.

We all learned a valuable lesson in strategy, marketing and promo from watching Jules.

In mid May, I was lucky enough to get the rights back to 7 of my books from Dell. The boost in sales I had seen in March had levelled off and, having realized that a freebie was a good thing,  I had already started jumping through the hoops to make another of my books free, this time Bound by the Heart. (still a bargoon, by the way, for $1.99)  By the time I had made covers and formatted the 7 books, the Amazon bot picked up the price change on BBTH and woo hoo, marked it down to free, where it stayed for three weeks and nearly 60K downloads.

By this time, there were an awful lot of authors testing out the ride on freebie bandwagon.  I understand why Amazon doesn’t allow authors  to make their books free, and why *they* reserve the right to do at their discretion. If everyone was allowed to put books up for free, it would turn into one huge massive outlet for free books and face it,  Amazon is a business and their goal is to make money.  So my experience in dealing with the Big A  is *not* a complaint.  A whine, perhaps, but not a complaint.

Back to my whine…er…point.  So in June, I thought okay, I’ll try giving my medievals a little boost.  They had been among my favorite books and I genuinely wanted to see them get a second breath of life out there in the digital world. I didn’t put typical romance covers the three books, choosing instead to give them a uniform look with weapons…two had swords, one had a crossbow.  For twenty years they have been referred to, in reviews, as my Robin Hood trilogy, with Through A Dark Mist as book one, In the Shadow of Midnight as book two, and The Last Arrow as book three.  I even made up an ominbus containing all three books and titled it The Robin Hood Trilogy.  A week into June, I lowered the price of Through A Dark Mist to free at Smashwords. Past experience tended to show that it took about two weeks for the price change to filter through to Barnes and Noble, Sony, Apple etc, and at that point it would be picked up by the spies at Amazon.

Well, that didn’t happen. Not on this side of the pond, anyway.

Amazon UK picked up on the price drop after less than a week and it’s been free there ever since.  I still wanted to offer that first book in the series at a discount, so I gave up waiting for the Big A on this side of the Atlantic to price match and dropped the price to .99, where it stayed for two weeks.  Last Friday, Amazon finally dropped it to free to match the price at Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Sony, and Apple.  Hmphf.  It’s been blissfully free now for the past six days, holding the #1 spot on the top 100 Free Bestselling Historical Romance list and #5 on the overall Freebie Kindle Bestseller list.

So that was the background to the point of this little ramble.  On to the ramble…

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of last week I spent a good deal of time redoing the covers for the Robin Hood trilogy.  I have, if anyone has been following along, gradually been changing the covers of some of the earlier books I did when I was relatively new at the graphic stuff. China Rose, for example, has gone through four cover changes since it was reissued as an ebook. Swept Away recently got a face-lift (or should I say body-lift *g*) and because I’ve done covers for some other authors, I’ve been having a better look at what’s out there, what works for the genre, what grabs the eyeball of the readers.  I still like the original covers for the medievals, I just thought maybe they could use some spicing up.




Friday I was out for dinner with friends. When I came home, I sat at the puter and was about to upload the new covers when I noticed Through A Dark Mist had been marked down from .99 to…FREE!  Amazon had finally picked up the price change.  I said a few colourful words, but then I sat and pondered…what do I do now about the new covers?  Do I change them, do I leave them until TADM comes off the free promo?  I’ve asked and received opinions from fellow authors, so now I’m asking the readers.  Do I change them, or do I leave them for another week, which is when I start the process of getting the price on TADM back up to $2.99?  Leave them or change them? What do you think?  And before you ask, yes, I used the uber-hunky Jimmy Thomas on the first two covers because the books feature father and son as the main characters, but The Last Arrow features Griffyn Renaud, the outsider and assassin, so I thought a different face suited it.  You can give your opinions about that too *g*



  1. I have some free short stories at SW and B&N, but never thought about putting them at Amazon for 99 cents and playing the ‘make it free’ game. I’m still waiting for rights to revert for the novels upon which this short stories are based, and then I’ll have to decide how to deal with marketing.

    I do notice that at both SW and B&N, my free titles do very little to drive traffic to others, so I’ve been reluctant to take the freebie game elsewhere. Then again, exposure at Amazon is a different animal entirely.

    Comment by Terry Odell — August 4, 2011 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

  2. I was worried when that face wasn’t Jimmy. Thanks for the excellent reason. I can breath again. I love your books and have them all at this point.but soemhow they are just better with Jimmy on the cover. All you other authors take note and follow Marsha’s covers!

    Comment by Margaret Sholders — August 4, 2011 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

  3. I just downloaded Through a Dark Mist onto my Nook. Thank you for the free read and the advice.

    Comment by Carolyn Sullivan — August 4, 2011 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  4. Here is my take on the covers and I have read and re-read the books. Change Through a Dark Mist to another man. I like Jimmy but he is not in line with the desciption of the hero. I thought his hair was more brown than black…However…leave the one for In the Shadow of Midnight. Eduard is darker (I think) due to some of his mother’s looks. The third book find another cover model. The one you have is okay…but I would prefer one with hair. Just my thoughts.
    Oh and I REALLY like the cover of Swept Away. I think it captured the essence of the book perfectly and I like you new cover for My Forever Love (the Dragon Tree).

    Comment by Juliet — August 4, 2011 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

  5. Nice covers, Marsha! You’ve done a super job with your designs, and how neat that you can change them whenever you want to. I’m really looking forward to finishing the edits on my backlist titles so I can YOUR books 🙂 Love the themes, and of course everything looks better with Jimmy on it, doesn’t it? (My cover artist exclaimed, “You don’t want his face on every book, do you?” Uhh… ask the readers that question!

    Comment by Cynthia Wright — August 10, 2011 @ 4:06 am | Reply

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