Let’s Get Digital – A Radical Free Strategy

This month will see the release of my latest book Let’s Get Digital.

As is almost compulsory in non-fiction, it now has a snappy subtitle: Not just how to self-publish, why to self-publish.

That’s not just window-dressing. I believe it is essential to have an understanding of the current state of the publishing industry in addition to learning how to publish something professionally.

Let’s Get Digital

The first part of this book will give you an overview of the rapidly changing book business. It will explain why the big publishers are in serious trouble, and how the internet has revolutionized things to the point where a writer, working on their own, can make a living out of it.

It will talk about why you don’t need to fear piracy. It will shatter the myths surrounding self-publishing, chief among them being that you will never make any money out of it.

And it will explain why this is a great time to be a writer, and how you can profit from these seismic changes that are taking place.

The second part of the book will deal with the nuts and bolts of digital self-publishing in a very hands-on fashion.

It will cover everything from finding an editor, arranging for a professional cover, how to format your book so it appears perfectly on every device, the appropriate pricing strategy for your work, and a whole host of marketing tips covering everything from blogging, social networking, reviews, competitions, to how to arrest a sales slump.

Finally, in the third part, I will present the stories of thirty-three successful self-publishers who share their journeys in their own words. Most of these guys are selling over 1,000 books a month, some are selling almost 100 times that.

There is a real mix of writers, covering all genres. Some had long, successful publishing careers but are making even more money from self-publishing, others had careers which had hit plateaued, but re-ignited when they went out on their own.

But most are people who had never published anything before, and are now either making a living from writing or quickly approaching that point. Their stories are powerful and inspiring, and I am very excited to present them to you.

I’m keeping the identities of my contributors secret for now. The plan is to name them on release day, but I may get excited and leak a few in the run-up. Anything is possible.

Overall, Let’s Get Digital will contain 60,000 words of articles, essays, and how-to guides. Some of it is information that has appeared on this blog in one form or another. Some of it is brand new. All of it has been extensively re-written and updated.

I think everyone will get something out of this book, no matter what stage they are at in their own writing career.

Let’s Get Radical

I will be doing something a little counter-intuitive with this book: giving it away for free.

As promised when I started this blog, the PDF version will be available as a free download, right here.

I will be attaching a Creative Commons License to that version which means that anyone will be free to download, email, and share it in any way. They will only be restricted from commercial use (i.e. profiting from it).

It will also be on sale at Amazon and the rest of the retailers for $2.99.

Because I am committed to producing professional titles – to the highest level – even when it is something I am giving away, my production costs for this book will be over $1,000.

There will also be a donate button beside the free version. Donations will be strictly optional, but I will be asking readers who find the book useful to kick in whatever they can to help me cover costs.

There will also be a note in the PDF version to the same effect.

I will need to sell at least 500 copies to break even (or receive an equivalent amount in donations). Will I do it? Am I crazy to be giving the PDF version away for free? Maybe not.

Here’s my thinking. The free version will act as an advertisement for the paid version. While the content will be virtually identical, it’s tough to read a PDF on an e-reader or phone. I’m hoping that sufficient numbers will spring for the mobi/epub version for the ease of reading on their device.

Because the PDF version will be free, there is a chance that it will be circulated widely. All I know for sure is that I will certainly reach a much wider circle of people than I could have with normal promotional methods.

When I was considering this strategy, I was aware of the possibility that the PDF could just be copied and passed along lots of people who will never see the donate button on my site, and never have any reason to come here.

But instead of limiting that in some way, which would hamper any chance it had of going somewhat viral, I wanted to give them a reason to come here.

As such, the book will be linked to lots of new content here on this blog. This makes practical sense too. There are a whole host of limitations to both the e-book file formats and the e-readers themselves that make things like including screenshots difficult.

Also, you can include links in e-books, but use too many and it gets ugly fast. Certain sections, like the formatting chapter, will have content which will be complemented by extra information on this blog.

I’m hoping that a good portion of the free readers will come and visit this blog to avail of this additional content. My logic is that once they become blog readers, they may feel more compelled to kick in a few dollars to help cover the costs of the book.

Will this strategy work? Well, I’m happy to be the lab rat here, and you all have ringside seats. It could be a phenomenal success, or I could be out over $1,000. And believe me when I say that I don’t have $1,000 to throw away.

The Best Things In Life Are Free

It’s a gamble, but I’ve always liked to roll the dice. In any event, making money was not my sole motivation for writing this book. Everything I have learned about self-publishing, I learned from fellow writers, for free, from their blogs.

This is a small way to give something back to the community, or, to be more accurate, pay it forward. If I can help other writers like those tireless bloggers helped me, I will be very happy. Money is nice, but there are a lot more things in life that can put a smile on your face.

The book was sent to the editor last week, and she is flying through it. At the same time, my designer is splitting pixel atoms as we speak, aiming to once again shake the very foundations of book cover design.

In other words, we are looking good for a mid-July release.

In the meantime, I will be building all the blog content that will add value for readers. As such, the blog will be getting a revamp – more in content and layout than in design (not my forte).

The changes won’t be too radical. You mightn’t even notice most of them. Generally, the will affect the navigation bar at the top.

At the moment, there are links to more information about me and my books, links to pages that group together some of my earlier articles on the digital revolution and how to self-publish professionally, as well as my much unloved haikus.

While this layout worked at the earlier stages of this blog, it has been somewhat neglected. There must be over 100,000 words of information on this blog now, but it’s not easy to find.

That’s all going to change. Over the next week or so, I will be tinkering with a variety of different ways to make this information more accessible, and hence, hopefully, more useful.

I’m also looking ahead to future content that you might find useful, and this is where I want to hear from you.

I’m already planning a more hands-on formatting guide.

I’m also considering a post breaking down the anatomy of a good cover – showing the evolution of an idea from the first mock-up to the final result. Would you find a post like that interesting or useful?

My editor will probably pop in and do a guest post on some topic. She has suggested a number of things like self-editing techniques, or the biggest grammatical errors she sees.

But maybe you would be more interested in an article on what to look for in an editor, or what to expect from them when you get one. Now is the time to speak up!

There will also be practical information on things like ISBNs, copyright, tax, and setting up a publishing company.

I would like to branch out a little. I won’t do book reviews, that’s not what this blog is about. And, I would like to continue to have guest bloggers and to interview fellow writers, and I will always cover and analyze the latest developments in the publishing industry.

But aside from those ideas, I would like to hear from you. Your input has been crucial in both the development of this blog, and my book. What would you like to see?

I would also love to hear your thoughts on my free strategy. Do you think it will work? Or do you think I’ll end up with a thousand dollars worth of egg on my face?

Either way, it’s going to be fun to find out. Even for me.

61 Replies to “Let’s Get Digital – A Radical Free Strategy”

    1. Thanks for the link, I love stories like that.

      I’m not the first person to give something away for free and to try and make money out of it, that’s for sure. Lot’s of people have had success making the e-book free and charging for the print version. I don’t know if anyone has ever tried to give away the PDF version and charge for the e-reader version, but probably.

      Re. sales, I’d settle for covering my costs, and a million free downloads!

  1. I’m really interested in the more hands on formatting guide. Maybe you can give some advice on how to troubleshoot problems. Also, when I published, I didn’t know by the descriptions on each publishing page (Smashwords, kindle) what would happen. I didn’t know how fast it would be before my book went live or how slow. (Smashwords went up within 30 minutes. Kindle took two days) I didn’t know how to check my newly formatted files on a reader, so step by step instructions there would be hugely helpful I think. On your cover design blog, maybe you can find someone who’d be willing to give a mini GIMP tutorial for those of us who use the free stuff.

    I’m also interested in hearing about the editing process. I think a guest post from your editor is a great idea. Maybe you could ask her to run a contest, pick a story from a ‘hat’ and edit the first three chapters.

    Promotion is another topic that needs greater depth, specifically how to pull people toward your site or your twitter or whatever method you chose to use, with some explanation of common terms that go with those territories. A lot of people turning to twitter for the first time have no idea what much of the terminology means. #Hashtags and the like. How to tweet, how not to tweet, how to get followers, etc. That list seems endless!

    I’m fairly certain you’ll make back your investment with the ‘giveaway’. I can’t wait to find out how the donation box goes. I think people will give money for something they value, maybe more than you expect. All you have to do is make sure the thing you are handing out has value, and it sure sounds to me like you have a great product! I’m looking forward to it!

    1. Hi JM,

      Great suggestions – thank you. Some of those I had planned, some are new and will go into the mix.

      I think I will make my money back to – in fact, I’m betting $1000 that I will. I’m putting a lot of effort into the free PDF version to make sure it is presented as well as it possibly can be.

    1. Cory Doctorow has had great success giving away the free e-books and charging for the print version. He was one of the inspirations for this idea, and the viral success of the free/pirated PDF of “Go The F*ck To Sleep” solidified the idea.

  2. I can’t wait to read this book! Perfect timing for me since I’m a few months away from publishing. I also can’t stop imagining Olivia Newton-John singing “Let’s Get Digital!”

  3. Sorry to disappoint you, Dave, but I can’t see much risk involved. Clever marketing sounds more like it.
    As you mentioned, PDF on Kindle is a no-brainer. So, count me in for a mobi. And if you cannot find 499 other buyers, the free PDF is still likely to give your shorts a boost. No need to worry.

    1. In my more confident moments, that’s how I feel about the project. However, I need to be mindful of the alternatives, one of which could be lots of free downloads and a small trickle of sales/donations. But that wouldn’t necessarily be a “bad” result either.

  4. Everything in this article sounds good.
    I write, but am mostly unpublished, and have never been paid for any writing.
    Being published AND paid for the work seems to be the final criteron for calling yourself a writer.
    So far, for me, that goal has been blocked by the requirements of the marketing/publishing business.
    Your suggestions seem possible.
    I look forward to reading your words.
    I may even pay for them if the method isn’t too difficult.
    Thank you!

  5. Free PDF or buy the ebook? Sounds like I’ll have both. I am finding novels wonderful to read on my Kindle, it is my preferred medium, but with a How-To there are limitations, so a PDF will be good to use on my laptop.

    JM Harrison above has covered many of my proposed comments: anatomy of a good cover is a definite, both fiction & non-fiction, and you might like to cover the different expectations by genre, too.

    What I’d find useful is a checklist of how (and why) to promote your title. Folks say that 5* reviews are a must. Well, I’ve got those, but I’m still in the doldrums, so it isn’t that simple. And if you, or any reader, can suggest a decent ebook/blog to keep me going while yours comes to launch, I’d apprecaite it.

    1. Hi Linda,

      It’s hard to give suggestions without knowing what you are doing already. I see you have a blog, but are you active on Twitter? Facebook? Goodreads? Have you tried a competition or giveaway? Have you submitted to book bloggers? How many Amazon reviews have you got?

  6. I’m interested to see how this works out for you, and how long it takes to get your $1000 back. 500 sales is not an astronomical figure. Given the recent explosion of your blog, I have no doubt you’ll get plenty of downloads, perhaps in the thousands. Whether or not 500 or more of those people donate, or buy the e-book version, remains to be seen – but I think it’s possible. Good luck, I know I won’t be the only one waiting eagerly to get my grubby paws on it.

    1. Brett,

      The way I looked at it was, if I can’t sell 500 copies of this book, while the topic is this hot, I shouldn’t be in this game. Glad to hear you are looking forward to it.

      1. That’s true – provided your writing is good and your content is well formatted and error free, then there’s no reason apart from exposure (which you’re getting now) that should stop you selling, whether you reach your target it in a couple of days, or over a few months. Judging by your other two books that I’ve picked up, I think you’ll do fine.

        1. Thanks Brett.

          I would like to cover my costs in three months. It would be great if I did it quicker, but that’s the target. I have no idea if that is conservative or not, as it’s impossible to say what effect the free version will have.

  7. Are you planning on sending out an email alert when you upload? If so count me in. 🙂

    Ironic, isn’t it, that a strategy like this seems counter-intuitive? Being a reasonable human, if I like what I get I’m only too happy to pay for it, particularly if the price is reasonable. I’d call that more intuitive than buying a book for £7.99 then finding out you don’t even like the story.

    I’ll be very interested to read your take on contemporary publishing.

    As to your blog, I like your stuff (possibly because I tend to agree with you) but, as you say, blogs can get a bit unwieldy over time making things hard to get to. I think its a great idea to publish a thread following up your book.

  8. I say you’ll break even the first week, and I, too, will buy the retail version. I follow your blog, but are you going to send out emails when Let’s Get Digital is published? You asked about our interest in a blog, the anatomy of a good cover: I for one think it would be most useful. As always, thanks for such giving.

    1. If you subscribe to the blog (button on top right), you will be the second person to know it’s published (after me).

      I also have a separate mailing list which is just for book releases (no spam, very infrequent messages), and I can add you to that if you like. I need to figure out a way of letting people sign up for that through the blog.

        1. I added a little link where you can sign up on the right-hand side between the two book covers. However, I ran a test and signed you up. You should get a confirmation email which I think you need to click.

          You’re my guinea pig!

  9. I think it’s a great idea. Hey, even if you don’t break even (which I don’t think will happen btw – I’m pretty sure you’ll make up the $1000 AND more), it’s a great way to get your name out there, and get ppl aware of the book who may not otherwise come across it. You have a good chance of going viral, for sure. You know what would be even cooler? Write a sequel/companion book to this one and charge $0.99 for it while this is still free if possible (or later on, making this free-ish at the time). I’m pretty sure you’ll be in the Kindle million club in no time, hehe!:) Good for you, David. I’m envious of and inspired by your guts, drive and good ideas:) Onward!

    1. I hope you’re right! And, as you point out, there will be additional benefits to the free version circulating widely, even if the paid version doesn’t bring home the bacon.

      Maybe I could do a follow up. I have a few ideas.

  10. I’ll be very interested to see how your free offer works out.
    I’m the author of a trilogy, and I’ve been giving Book I away in multiple ebook formats from my website. Still, there are people who prefer to buy from Amazon because they don’t have to bother with transferring the book to their Kindle. Granted, I priced Book I at 99 cents. Not a lot of price resistance there, but Books II and III are both priced at $9.99, and they are both selling well, so I’d say the strategy is working.

    Catherine M Wilson

    1. $9.99? $6.99 for you from each sale? And people are buying it? I would say that strategy is working too!

      Each sale at that higher price is worth 20 sales at 99 cent. Nice work.

  11. One problem with this…

    From what I’ve heard from other writers, Amazon MUST be selling your book at the lowest price on the web. So if you’re giving away FREE or PDF versions of it on your website, they WILL find out and then they’ll keep the difference between your price and theirs, in this case, $2.99 or whatever you’re gonna charge. And they won’t even tell you what’s going on until you ask where all your money is.

    Another suggestion would be to make the PDF version SLIGHTLY different, a different title, also, and give IT away for free. Maybe you can include HALF the book in the PDF, call it “A bite of…” or something.

    Maybe someone here who has some experience in the matter can suggest a better alternative or say if the policy has changed in some way.

    Whatever you do, you can count me in as a Day One buyer.

    1. Hi David,

      My understanding is that Amazon will only price match when it’s on a site that they consider a “competitor”. Smashwords isn’t considered big enough, and Amazon generally doesn’t care if something is free there – they don’t price match. However, if you are in the Premium Catalogue and the “free” price gets pushed out to the companies they do price match with, such as Sony or Barnes & Noble, they will match it pretty quick. I think my site will be fine, their bots won’t visit me.

      Also, it’s a different format. I don’t think a PDF would fall within their price match remit.


  12. I have nothing of any use to add to this conversation except ditto to all the suggestions and ditto to the you have another buyer already in the bag 🙂 And free promotion, because I will certainly spread the word to the four corners of my own world (not very large, but hey).

    Looking forward to it!

  13. This might be more for the “Director’s Cut” version, but it would be nice to have a way for writers of varying experience and background to do something like the old choose-your-own-adventure books. Either have a list of sections for the Experienced Legacy Writer, Complete Neophyte, etc. or at the end of each section a quiz: Know how to code in HTML? skip to page 45. Won awards for your Twitter skills? skip to page 87. That sort of thing. And to make sure you include my very special case, have a path for “Unpublished, have agent, turned down legacy publisher contract, multiple books, hardcore introvert.” Ta. 😉

    1. Hey Sabrina,

      I actually thought of doing this, and had notes at the start of each section suggesting things like that. But then I thought, readers aren’t stupid. They know they can skim or skip a chapter on Twitter if they are already rocking it with 10,000 followers. It’s especially easy now with e-books. One click and you are at the table of contents. The whole thing will be well hyper-linked for easy, quick travel around the book. I’ve tried to design it so that it’s very easy to dip in and out of, as I imagine most people won’t read it straight through. There will be bits they skip and come back to, or times they pause while they sort out their formatting or whatever.

      I do love the idea of choose your own adventure e-books. The possibilities are limitless.


  14. I found your blog from the Earlyworks forum, and my next task is to register with your blog. I’m not an author – my interest is in producing ebooks for authors – but I will definitely buy your book in ePub format as soon as it comes out.


  15. A great idea, David, full of optimism and integrity. I will do what I guess many people will, accept your free download gratefully AND buy the book.


    1. Oh I do hope so!

      One worry I have is that those who purchase the book on Amazon (who didn’t know about the free version), may be annoyed when they see it’s free on my site. I hope not, and I hope they realize that they are getting a bargain for $2.99, when most non-fiction books, and most publishing guides cost a hell of a lot more than that.

  16. Another thought, David. I’d be happy to link either or both versions of your book in my blogs. I have both blogspot and wordpress. Just let me know if you want this.

    1. That would be great Martin.

      Anyone is welcome to link to the free book. All I ask is that they link to the download page rather than the file itself. That way, the readers can read my spiel, and see the option to donate. Their is no pressure to donate, but it would be good if they know the option is their so that if they download the book and find it useful, they may return and kick in a few dollars (or buy the Kindle version for themselves or a friend).

  17. Pingback: Does Amazon Allow Free Samples? Depends Who You Are. | Collective Inkwell
  18. Really looking forward to this book, David. This week I’ve read Scott Nicholson’s ‘The Indie Journey’ and ‘Write Good Or Die’ as well as John Locke’s ‘How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks’. I’m the kind of guy who likes to immerse himself in information when he first gets into something, and self-publishing has me very excited at the moment.

    I don’t even have a Kindle, just the Kindle app for PC, but I’ll still be buying your book. Because a couple of quid barely engages the “Should I really?…” part of the brain. It’s like buying books in a charity shop: I pick up anything vaguely interesting because even if it’s bad, I haven’t lost much. (Not that I’m expecting your book to be bad: far from it!)

    1. Hey Craig,

      That’s good to hear. There’s always some nerves before a book release. You never know if it’s going to sink or swim. Glad to hear you are looking forward to it, and I hope it lives up to your expectations. I’m biased, but I’m very proud of this book, and I feel an even greater tingle of excitement about releasing this than anything else so far.


  19. I think this book is a great idea and will do well; I will certainly promote it on Google+, Twitter, and Facebroke. There are so many articles trying to scare writers from being proactive and learning to become small business owners — trying to dissuade people from doing what makes most sense: handle your own writing business. I look forward to implementing your tips. I published a book on Smashwords and have been told to reformat it three times…. arrgh!
    Thanks for writing this book!

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