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#WriteTip: One Free, One Cheap, One Real

Sam av

Last week, our eBook retailer, Pronoun, surprised us all when they doubled our author royalties, released the long-awaited Author Pages, and opened the door to Free eBooks. I had always wanted to offer something to my readers for free, but previously Pronoun’s lowest price had been $0.99. This, as you can imagine, was big news for Frankie and me.

Almost immediately, I dropped the price to FREE on my fresh publication, A SHINY FOR TRICK. Then I flung it to the masses and more or less forgot about it.

Today I checked my email. Pronoun has been sending me updates on how my sales have been. Since I dropped the price to free, I’ve sold 29 copies. Granted, I’ve not turned a profit on any of these books, but 29 is about as many digital copies that I’ve sold of THE BLOOD OF NERYS.

I had hoped this would happen. I am so glad that it did.

I turned to my roommate this morning and told him about my discovery. We discussed something he had heard somewhere about marketing. That it’s best to have one free product, one cheap product, and a lot of your real product.

(Note: The prices I’ve listed here refer to eBooks only. Printing incurs the cost of paper and ink, so print copies naturally cost more. I won’t be covering print with this blog post.)

Free Books as a Marketing Tool

Most people will pull the trigger on a free book without so much as a second thought. They might never read it, but they CAN, and that’s all that matters at the moment of purchase. Offering something for free seems counter-intuitive. After all, at this point you’ve spent hundreds of hours on the thing and likely had to pay for editing, cover design, or other services.

The important point to keep in mind though is that almost anyone will pick up a free book if they are even slightly interested in it. With your free book, you are casting a net far and wide, hoping some of the readers you reach stick around.

Your free book should be, in my opinion:

  • Short (mine is 17K, about 58 pages)
  • In your primary genre
  • Readable by everyone you ever hope to reach with any book (kids? Adults? Both?)

This is the appetizer. At this point, anyone who took the time to read your free book should know what to expect from your writing. Plus, they’ll be done with the free book quickly, and hopefully want to read something else.

That’s when you bait them again with the cheap product.

Cheap Books Are Your Chance to Prove Yourself

Now, give them a real novel. In my opinion, your cheap book should be:

  • Between $2-5
  • A standalone novel
  • In your primary genre
  • Directed at your primary audience
  • A good example of what you’ll typically write about

You might want to have 2-3 of these directed at different audiences. If you’re planning on writing books for both adults and young adults, you would probably want one of each. If you have to choose one, choose Young Adult (YA). A lot of adults enjoy these.

But start with one, and then move on to your Real Product.

The cheap book should be a singular example of what you’re about here. Develop a full story, hook and hold a reader, give a satisfying conclusion. They should read this thing and want to read more books.

Alright. Give ’em Everything You’ve Got.

Time for the real thing. Your crowning achievement. That beloved world you’ve been dying to write that you plan to spend a lot of time exploring. This should be where you put your series.

In my opinion, your real story should be:

  • Between $4-10
  • A series in your primary genre
  • Directed at your primary audience
  • About whatever your heart desires

You might have more of these later. This is what you’d mainly be writing from now on. Keep working on major standalones or major series directed at any of your audiences in the genres you will write. Basically, you’d want to write a free book, then a cheap book, then a real product, and then spend the rest of your career rounding out your listings.

How This Looks for Me

  • My Free Book is A SHINY FOR TRICK. It’s directed at all audiences and reads like a grim (not Grimm) fairy tale. It’s mostly lighthearted at the surface, but it does dabble in some darker themes like obsession and starvation. It’s 17K and written for a younger audience, but to adults it might feel like a Pixar short. Rather adorable and entertaining. It’s pure fantasy–magical creatures, other worlds, magical boxes and magical treasures.
  • My Cheap Book is THE BLOOD OF NERYS priced at $3.99. This was actually my first book. It’s definitely for an adult audience. It has a little gore and a lot of swearing. The setting is dystopian with a blurry sense of setting (this is intentional. Whether or not this is our world gone awry or another world is entirely up to your imagination. Either works). It deals with large philosophical concepts like God, magic, and science. It’s medical science fiction with a twist of fantasy, with blood as a main component, and finished in one book.
  • My Real Product is ACHILLEA and the books that will follow. This is not published yet, but will be a trilogy, and then a later trilogy, and then some. I will be spending a lot of time in this world. I have built a familiar sense of place and person. I know these characters as well as I know real people, and I love them dearly. ACHILLEA was the first book I ever finished, and I’ve poured countless hours into refining it to make it perfect. This is an adult epic fantasy, rife with powerful female characters, espionage, and turmoil. ACHILLEA sits at 137K. The second book is in progress and currently at about 38K. (My foolish writer brain thinks writing book 4, the first of the second series in this world, is somehow a great idea, so that’s sitting at about 8K, too).I cannot wait for all of you to meet these characters. They’ve been with me a long time. Heike, Achillea’s surly captain, is my belligerent muse.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you enjoy the work Frankie and I do on this blog, the best way you can support us is to share the posts and share our books. Even if they aren’t your thing, but you believe in what we’re doing here, sharing them with someone who might is a huge help. As with any new author, exposure is always the biggest challenge. (And reviews!)

Thanks everybody! Have a great weekend!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


Frankie Updates with Outtakes at the End!



An update on what I’ve been up to! I decided to add some clips of my vlog fails for this vlog. You have no idea how many times I completely muck up my vlogs, so this has a little taster at the end XD I might add it to all my vlogs from now on and give you all a laugh 😀




Today I pulled the trigger on my first book, THE BLOOD OF NERYS (synopsis at end of post). At the time of this posting, it is currently processing and not available for sale. It should hit most major online retailers within the next 3 days, and takes a little longer for Barnes & Noble.

Furthermore, I am investigating a promising print-on-demand option that’s cheaper than createspace. I will keep you updated as I know more.


6x9 cover


After a crusade against technology wipes out every last remnant of science, a horrific blood plague devastates mankind. In the wake of such despair, the desperate survive by capitalizing upon the misfortune of others.
Nerys Raphaen, an optimistic flower artist in a broken city, is an anomaly. But she is cruelly abducted, her blood harvested and inexplicably sold for prices that ruin lives, threatening to break her spirit. Then her enigmatic captor reveals that in her veins flows the key to their survival. He tells her she can save anyone. Given the chance at last to bring hope to an otherwise dark era, she never even considers questioning his method.

But because of Nerys…he does.


Word Count Woes, and Self Promotion Friday


I’m back from vacation! Back to your regular scheduled programming. 😀

In this video, I vent about my editing frustrations RE: word counts and passive voice.

I also mention the tentative start of a new novel.

And I freaked out Frankie when I made her FB page explode. 😀

Someone offered to critique me!

green Hello, from Vacation Land!!! I know I warned you all about the blog silence (the holidays, Blah blah, etc.). Even so, I still feel like a jerk for neglecting you. Sorry about that. Today I’m going to give you the old fashioned typed out blog, instead of a video. The reason is because I’m in a house full of in-laws and I can’t seem to find a free quiet moment to myself to make a video. As I type this, we’re all gathered in the living room watching “Taken” and I’m multitasking. I do that. Obligatory life update: Christmas is awesome and I love my in-laws. They’re seriously the best mandatory family a girl could ask for. I told my mom and several other random people that my in-laws are exactly what my family would be if they all liked each other and got along. My family tends to be over-dramatic and angry half the time. Brad’s family is just super chill. We got a lot of cash for Christmas. Also, my mother-in-law taught me how to use the sewing machine that my aunt gave me, which means now I can pursue my dream of making fleece Pokemon hats to sell on Etsy and at cons. I’m quite pleased. We also bought a bunch of DVDs and some random gadgets, like an aux cable for my car so I can listen to my iTunes. I JUST learned that I could do this. I’m kind of technologically retarded at times. I don’t even have a smart phone (I prefer not to have such easy access to the internet ALL the time). Speaking of tech-retarded… I just now, as of an hour or so ago, finally got my first Kindle. I have already mastered it and loaded it with free eBooks. I even bought Frankie’s eBook, THE SCIENTIST’S DAUGHTER, which means I can FINALLY read it in its entirety. You should probably go buy that, too.


I learned about this reading challenge for 2015:

I’m going to give it a try. I’ve been meaning to read more. I’ve neglected reading for too long in favor of other hobbies–writing being one, though I don’t intend to give that up, either. There’s a FB group for the reading challenge if anyone else wants to try it with me.

A lot of my NaNoWriMo friends are also imposing writing challenges for 2015. A page a day, or 1667 words a day, or 5 books by the end of the year. I can handle something along those lines, but holidays and such are going to keep me from daily goals. I’m planning on writing at least one more book in 2015. I think I can manage three, even with editing and all that jazz. I work fast, and setting a goal of three will allow for other commitments and periods of burnout. A good, solid goal, I think, and I have MORE than enough ideas. The damned plot bunnies have been breeding like rabbits, taunting me as I edit.

It’s actually quite disturbing.

Now, on to the actual writing update. 

I had set a goal of finishing editing by the end of December. There’s good news and bad news on that front. The good news is… I did it! Yep, I sure did. I got my ducks in a row. Deleted the scenes that needed deleting. Added the scenes that needed adding. Saved a scene that I couldn’t live without but didn’t need anymore. I cut 33,457 words in the first heavy-handed revision. 159,043 down from 192,500. That is no small feat. I’ve never cut that many words from a story in my life. In fact, I had expected to add about 20,000 words and delete about 15,000 words for a net gain of 5,000. I’ve surprised myself, and I’m quite proud. Cutting words isn’t really something I enjoy doing.

The bad news is, I still have a long way to go. The typical goal for a debut fantasy author is 90-120K. 159K isn’t TOO far over, so if it turns out I can’t cut any more than what I have, I’ll take it. I believe in my story. I also find solace knowing that Pat Rothfuss’ debut novel is 255K. I’m no Pat Rothfuss, but it gives me hope. That tells me that a bloated word count is NOT an auto reject for every agent. It also tells me that if my writing is good enough, someone out there will take a chance on my word count. That means I can either cut words or improve them if the rejections start to stack up. I can live with that. I’m in this to write quality works, anyway. If it’s shit, I don’t want someone to publish it. These are words I will never be able to take back. I don’t want to cringe when I see them again in 10 years.

As a side note, I find it ironic that I’ve trained myself to stretch my word count to what I consider the proper length for a novel (400-800 pages) only to be told time and time again that the upper limit for a novel should be 120K (about 400 pages). Such is life I suppose. Apparently only the cool kids are allowed to write long books, and I’m still too n00bish. *sighs dramatically*

There’s more good news, though. Last night on Twitter (ATTENTION: Writers who are following our blog who are STILL not on Twitter, you’ll want to pay VERY CLOSE ATTENTION to what I am about to say), I was having a conversation with another author about our main characters. We were comparing sassy heroines (I was talking about Heike) and I mentioned that I’d love to share my MC with her. We got to talking about our genres and what we were working on and such and I mentioned my word count issue. She sympathized and offered to have a look at my first chapter, offering to point out where I could cut words or what I could do in general to improve.

The answer to this question–if it’s a reputable source–is ALWAYS yes. When someone who knows what they’re doing offers a free and friendly critique, take that. So, I sent her my first chapter. The moment I made the decision, I felt sick to my stomach. Sharing my work is always terrifying. This is heart and soul and months of work. Sharing it with a person makes me feel vulnerable. It’s scary! But I knew I needed it, and this author doesn’t know me personally. I took it as a valuable opportunity, and mailed off my chapter one.

A day later (WOW FAST!), I got this:

Hey Sam!

All right, I’ve got your critique ready. I only went half way through your first chapter, because 13k as a first chapter is just a BEAST! It’s a short story, or generally a little less than a quarter of a normal length novel.
First, let me say, you’re a very talented writer. The major problem I’m seeing is large info dumps of back story. It’s a lot of telling about things that already happened. You want to propel the story forward, especially in the first chapter. I don’t want to know what HAS happened, I want to know what IS happening. Breaking up back story and putting at appropriate points between dialogue and prose is going to help smooth that out quite a bit. 
I love, love, love the way you write your dialogue. It’s fantastic and engaging! 
My opinion is, nixing a lot of the back story and get to the inciting incident. I think that’s where you’re going to be able to cut unnecessary things to get your word count down and keep the story by sprinkling it through out.
My only other suggestion would be to break up the first chapter. It’s so very long, longer than most. 
I hope my edits help, and remember, edits are suggestions, so take what you want and toss the rest. At the end of the day, it’s your story.
If you have any questions, feel free to let me know!
My reaction:
The chapter length is whatevs. I had 50 chapters and decided it was too many, so I tried to line it up with what I felt was the right length based on my favorite stories (ASOIAF, tWoT, etc). Apparently, I overshot. XD That’s fine. Dividing chapters is small potatoes and an easy fix.
HOLY SHIT I GOT COMPLIMENTS! If there’s one thing that people seem to agree on (who have read any of what I have shown them), it’s that my characters are pretty awesome. I’m glad someone complimented my dialogue. I’ve never really known how well I’ve done that.
Info dumps. Yeah… I was afraid of that. And at this point I had already cut the prologue entirely. The next slice and dice is going to be harder… but a lot of agents have cited info dumpage as a problem, particularly with fantasy writers, so if Natasha pointed it out, then chances are my would-be agents will agree. Back to the drawing board on that one.
In the revision document, she also points out that I use a lot of passive voice. Scooping that out of my manuscript has been a true pain (the slow death of my soul). When I tell stories, passive voice tends to be my default. I just think that it SOUNDS prettier, more elegant and poetic. I’m trying to make that switch. It’s hard, and I know it needs to be done. This is what happens when one desires to emulate the lofty high fantasy writers like Tolkien and GRRM. I want to write words that feel like lyrics when recited. Yes, it’s less action-y… I just LIKE it better. It’s a fault of mine, according to a lot of people that know more than me.
The verdict? Natasha told me a lot of what I already knew. That’s really good to hear, actually. It tells me a couple of things. It tells me that I’ve got a pretty good idea of my own issues, which means I can work on them. It also tells me that I absolutely have to do it. She was perfect about pointing out what needed work without being insulting, too. She had excellent suggestions and pointed out very specific areas that could be cleaned up. *thumbs up* I have a direction again. This is good.
Furthermore, I was just incredibly grateful that anyone took the time out of their day to spend helping out a nobody like me.
Natasha Raulerson is an author of multiple genres and hostess/founder of Whiskey, Wine, and Writing. She’s quite entertaining, and a generally awesome person. You can find her here:
Did Senpai notice me today?
Answer: YES!!!