Guest Post by Moses Siregar III: Using “Free” to Generate Pre-Release Buzz

One of the criticisms that self-publishers face is that they rush their work out. Sometimes it’s bad covers, or poor editing, but sometimes the book just wasn’t ready to be published.

Today’s guest poster, Moses Siregar III, understands the importance of making sure your book is the best you can possibly make it before you sent it out into the world.

Rather than be frustrated by seeing other indie writers dive in and rack up sales, Moses never rushed his work, instead taking the time to assiduously build his platform in a number of interesting ways, all building up towards the release of his novel at the start of August.

He has agreed to do a before-and-after guest post, so we will get to see how effective his strategy is. We’ll have him back some time in August to talk again, but for now, here’s Moses:

Using “Free” to Generate Pre-Release Buzz

Last summer, I wanted to jump into indie publishing before the pool became too crowded. Unfortunately, my novel was far from ready. So I came up with a creative solution to get an ebook out. I looked at my book to see if I could carve a novella out of it, hoping for a long excerpt that I could sell as a 99 cent or free ebook.

The idea was that the novella would be worth reading on its own, even though it was essentially a teaser for the coming novel. To make the purpose of the excerpt clearer, I called it: The Black God’s War: A Novella Introducing a New Epic Fantasy.

It worked, but only because I was able to make the book free at Smashwords, B&N, and eventually Amazon (plus iBooks, etc.). The novella/excerpt got some very nice reviews even when it was at 99 cents, but it didn’t sell many copies even at that price, perhaps because most reviews said things like, “Great teaser. I can’t wait to read the full novel.” Those pesky reviewers!

I wanted to give people a good taste (my novella is 27,000 words) without sharing too much of the story (my novel is 121,000 words). To this date, the novella has been downloaded somewhere between 15-20,000 times. I don’t know the exact number because either B&N or Smashwords hasn’t reported the numbers in a while—it’s a long story.

Here are some of the reasons why a strategy like this, or a variation on it, might make sense for you.

When you make your ebook free (start by pricing for free at Smashwords so you can get your ebook to go free at iBooks and/or B&N; if you have an iTunes Connect account, you can do this directly with them), you’ll get a lot of downloads, quite possibly more than ten thousand downloads in the first week at Amazon if Amazon matches the free price at another store (whether or not Amazon will do this comes down to luck).

Unfortunately, it appears that relatively few of these thousands of copies will ever be read. Too many people just gobble up and hoard free ebooks, in case the apocalypse is coming tomorrow. Hey, it could happen.

But there are some more interesting reasons to do an early freebie. The first is to create a buzz about you and your work. Conventional wisdom says (don’t you love how you don’t have to cite anyone when you say that?) you should begin to market your book many months before it comes out.

I released my excerpt novella one year before my novel. Having a work of fiction out there with some legitimate, good reviews allowed me to talk about the book and build up some anticipation.

Without having something available, no one would’ve known whether to take me seriously as an aspiring writer. And since I like to hang around publishing blogs and message boards, I, of course, wanted some people to take me seriously. A little bit, anyway.

Because I released the novella early, I got a nice endorsement blurb from Scott Nicholson and then another one from David Farland. Without getting my work out there early, I wouldn’t have gotten those blurbs before my novel came out.

Now when the novel thrusts itself upon the receptive world, I can put those blurbs on the cover of the novel or on the book’s Amazon page. I’ve also been able to get a bunch of reviews from book review bloggers, and I’ll pull quotes from those reviews to put at the beginning of the novel and in the “Editorial Reviews” heading on the book’s Amazon and B&N pages.

Of course, this only works if the excerpt (or other free item you’re offering, such as a short story), well, works. You need to offer your readers some of your very best stuff and make a great first impression, while holding back most of your story (if you do an excerpt). In my case, the first chapter of my novel (and novella) seems to make that big impression. Nearly everyone who has read my first chapter seems to like it and wants to read more.

I worked hard at writing a good first chapter, because you need a good first chapter to sell your book to anyone who samples your book before buying. In my case, I kept showing my first chapter to beta readers until people loved it. And that took a while.

I had to scratch my original first chapter and write a completely different one. Then I had to work on that chapter for weeks if not months until it made people go, ‘Wow.’ Then I got my copyeditor to help me clean it up, and it was ready to roll.

Keep in mind that I haven’t achieved any significant sales yet. So take my advice for what it’s worth. What I have accomplished is that I’ve managed to generate some pretty good pre-release buzz for my novel. For example, David Farland mentioned me in one of his free Daily Kick emails (a popular free service he offers) and cited me as someone doing things right when it comes to self-publishing.

I’m ecstatic to be on the threshold of actually being a novelist, with my first novel coming out August 1st. I don’t know what will happen next, but I’ve done all I could do to build an audience for my novel before its release. Pretty soon, we’ll see if my early efforts at promoting the novel paid off.

David has invited me to come back and blog again about my novel after it’s been out for a little while, so I hope to see you then! If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch with me or ask away in the comments below.

—Moses Siregar III


And thanks to Moses for coming along today. This will be very interesting to watch. Moses is very well-known in the indie community both through his writing and through various projects such as Indie Author Rockstar.

But he has also made his name in the wider writing world through his fabulous series of podcasts with Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing.

On top of that, he’s got tons of readers now himself, which is a great foundation for his book launch. I wish him the best of luck with it.

He should be along later to answer any questions you may have.

Oh and before I forget, Martin Lake interviewed me over at his blog about Let’s Get Digital, and my reasons for writing it. Check it out.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

35 Replies to “Guest Post by Moses Siregar III: Using “Free” to Generate Pre-Release Buzz”

  1. Moses, your marketing strategy is very creative. Wish I’d thought of it. Keeping fingers crossed on your sales. You’ve put together an excellent program with Indie Rock Stars.

  2. Mike, thanks very much. It was a risky idea, but luckily it’s worked out pretty well. The tricky part was carving out an excerpt that completed a certain major story arc while leaving people hungry for more. I was worried about getting a lot of reviews complaining how I’d left people hanging (at least I wasn’t obnoxious about where I ended it, though), but for the most part that hasn’t happened. I have gotten a number of reviews, though, that said the novella would’ve been a 5 if it weren’t for the fact that it’s only an introduction to the story. So one major risk is that your review average on an excerpt like this will definitely be lower than it would otherwise be (with a full story). I guess that means that whenever you release an excerpt like this, you need to do your very best with it and really try to make a strong impression. Thanks for reading the post, and thanks very much for your positive energy!

  3. I spend a lot of time reading about indie e-book promotion, and I’ve gotta say that on paper (pixels?) anyway, this is one of the more ingenious ideas I’ve come across. Thanks for sharing, Moses, and good luck!

  4. No problem at all, David. This is fun.

    You asked:

    “Did you ever submit your work to an agent or publisher?

    Plus, what would you do if an agent emailed you tomorrow and said “I want to represent you, but only if you cancel the release of the novel so we can go on submission with it”?”

    I haven’t submitted this novel to an agent or publisher, even though I got an invitation from a major editor at a major house to submit directly to her. The reason is, I want to see what I can accomplish on my own first, and even if I want a traditional deal, I think the best chance at getting a good trad. deal is to have success as an indie first. But it’s impossible to know if I’m making a great decision or a terrible mistake by going indie first. Since I have the temperament for indie publishing, I’m hopeful that I’m starting out the best way for me.

    I did have a literary agent back in ’02, but that was for a nonfiction book (it didn’t get published), and she doesn’t represent fantasy novels.

    If an agent wanted to represent me now, they’d have to be on board with my strategy to put out at least this novel first. I’ve promised too many people that it’s coming out on August 1st, beginning with myself. There is one agent I really want to work with, and I might contact him soon after I release my book. But I want to keep this book out there until something really good comes along, and of course that may or may not happen.

    1. Hi Moses,

      You seem pretty focused on your strategy, and I think that’s the right approach. I think it will work out well for you. Best of luck with the launch – just over a week away now!


  5. Hi Moses,

    Thanks for coming back to answer so many questions. I have another, if you are still around.

    Did you ever submit your work to an agent or publisher?

    Plus, what would you do if an agent emailed you tomorrow and said “I want to represent you, but only if you cancel the release of the novel so we can go on submission with it”?


  6. Andrew, that’s a great question that I’m still thinking over. I could decide to follow a similar strategy and release novella-length excerpts from future novels. Since I’d be promoting them for free, it could be a great chance at some free publicity. One downside if that you become busy promoting the free item rather than writing and finishing the novel. I think that would be my biggest concern. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll take this same approach with book 2. Stay tuned?

  7. Paolo said: “Moses, in the fast-paced world of ebook releases, isn’t a year perhaps too much to build buzz and anticipation? Is there some risk that readers who appreciated the teaser may eventually forget or lose interest by the time the complete work is released?”

    I think that is a risk. But let’s say only for the sake of discussion that within 6 months people will remember you. Let’s also say that everyone beyond 6 months has a 50% chance to forget you. Then what you’ve got is those golden six months, plus another 50%.

    In some respects, the long wait could work to your advantage. More people will know you. The longer you’re around, the more it’s clear that you’re ‘one of us’ (if you’re an indie hanging around other indies, blogs, etc.) and here to stay. More people will wonder just how hard you’ve been working on that book. And anticipation itself is probably an effective sales tool (I would guess there have been some good studies about this, but I’m not sure).

    Those are just my thoughts, though.

  8. Thank you, Moses, for your original take on self publishing. I wonder if you think the same approach would be useful for a second and later books?

  9. Moses, in the fast-paced world of ebook releases, isn’t a year perhaps too much to build buzz and anticipation? Is there some risk that readers who appreciated the teaser may eventually forget or lose interest by the time the complete work is released?

  10. Hi Andrew,

    I am extraordinarily pleased with the cover art for my novel. Thanks!

    The shelf life of buzz … hm. I think the good news is that you don’t have to generate any pre-release buzz. It’s a bonus if you can do that, and it might help you sell books more quickly, but there’s also plenty of wisdom in playing a long game and letting the buzz grow more slowly. Developing a presence in social media so that people know you before you’re published can be smart, though. Because everyone loves an underdog, right? Especially one that’s easy enough to get along with.

    I think one of the most important things when it comes to ebook sales is to find ways to reach the audience that your book is targeted to. Because if those people buy your book, Amazon will start to recommend your book to other people who read in your genre (this is crucial). And also, because those are the people that you want to have talking about your books. So one of the first things to think about is how you can reach people who read in your genre. In contrast, generating ‘buzz’ is more like a cherry on top.

  11. Hi Moses. You must be thrilled with how your cover art turned out! I would really be interested to hear your thoughts on the shelf life of ‘buzz’. It can be such a powerful marketing tool, but how to judge the time needed to reach maximum buzz? Trying to coordinate the marketing with novel release is such a critical element and I am such a green hand right now.
    Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

  12. Hi again, Moses. I really do love the cover. I have a background in fine arts (painting), but zero graphics experience, so you’ve inspired me. Question: is she wearing a Sacramento Kings jersey below the picture frame? 🙂 (I remember you talking NBA with Nathan Bransford on his site)

  13. I think Moses is definitely going about things the right way here. I picked up his novella because the cover looked really good, and it was free within a genre I enjoy reading. I really liked it, and I’m definitely anxious to read the full book when it’s released.

    I think noting it was a novella in the title was a really smart move. Most of the time, free books don’t entice me to even download them because their covers are crap or they’re offering a full-length novel (or close to it) for free with no real idea how they’re going to translate that into sales later on. In my experience, that’s been a sure sign that it’s going to suck.

    Seeing that it was a novella right up front let me see that, oh, it’s free, but it’s a short novella introducing a new series. Cover not crap? Might be a good read. The signals all pointed to a read that might, at least, not be a total waste of time. I was right.

    Can’t wait for the book.

  14. hollistergrant, you made me laugh LOL. Yeah, Nathan’s a Sacramento Kings guy and I’m a Phoenix Suns guy. So he and I can only come together on our mutual feelings about the Lakers :D. I’m actually going to interview him next month for the podcast I’m involved with. I’m really looking forward to that, because I’ve learned a lot from his blog posts and I really respect the guy.

    For anyone who’s read my novella, most people assume that’s Lucia on the front cover, but in my mind that’s the goddess Mya. Once I tell that to people, they usually go, “Oh. That makes sense.” She’s the “vine-covered” goddess who is also known as The Compassionate One. But Mya ends up in some interesting predicaments.

  15. Brondt, thanks very much for your comments. I appreciate everything you said. I hope the novel fulfills the promise of the shorter work. Just today, I heard from an early reader (he’s just reading the novel now) who agree with me that the last two parts of the book (the final 60%) is where it really takes off and soars. Fingers crossed.

    Lindsay, without knowing your whole situation, I’d lean toward free rather than 99 cents. It could be the difference between 10,000 downloads versus 100 downloads.

    Marsha, I think your patience might really pay off. Sometimes I wonder if I should’ve held off for another year until I can release three novels at once. But I’ve gone this route, with the hope that people will like my first novel enough to look me up again later, and we’ll see how it works out. I wish you the best of luck with your books. It sounds like a smart plan to me.

    Damon, it’s great to hear all of your comments. I really appreciate that you gave me a chance and that you want to read more. Fwiw, all of my readers say the novel is considerably better than the novella, and I feel that way, too. Pretty soon I’ll find out if that’s true.

    hollistergrant, first see my initial response to David. I’ve really enjoyed working on the cover myself. I get as much satisfaction out of people appreciating the cover as I would from people liking the book. Again, I think that’s because I’m normally a terrible artist. I like that I’ve been able to give the cover a distinctive look, something that’s a little unusual. It still tells you enough about what type of book it is, but it’s definitely different. Ultimately, that’s how I want to ‘brand’ myself, too: epic fantasy, but definitely different 🙂

  16. Susan said: “I’m curious about the timing. I think you said you released the novella one year before the novel. I’m wondering about how long it takes to create “buzz,” and do you plan on releasing anything else between now and the novel’s release?”

    The novel will come out on August 1st, so we’re nearly there (I think I can, I think I can …). When I released the novella, I wasn’t sure when I’d release the novel. For a while, I was aiming for May of this year. Then I decided to work on the project some more and here we are with an August 1st release date.

    As far as how long it takes, if you do a good job then you can build anticipation for a while. I mean, some people just read my novella this month.. So I think the long build has probably been a good thing for me. Another reason this works is because the people who read my novella a year ago (when, frankly, it wasn’t as polished as it is now) might be curious how the book has changed over the last year–and it’s changed a fair amount.

    I’d say 9-12 months is probably ideal, all other things being normal. But even 3-6 months could be great.

    More to come …

  17. I’ll say one other thing about pricing, though. If I hadn’t done all I could to generate some pre-release buzz for the novel, then I’d be really nervous about a price like $3.99, maybe even $2.99. In that case, I’d probably stick with $2.99 and cross my fingers real hard. But since this is my only novel to date, and since it’ll be at least six months until my next one is out–and maybe a good bit longer than that–I think I need to hope that I can get some sales at prices between $3-$5 so I can afford to keep writing.

    Josephine, thanks for your comments. You also asked: “Are you going to sell the novel alongside the novella or are you going to take the novella off the market to keep buyer confusion down?”

    I plan to keep them both up. I’ll be happy to use the freebie to continue to generate interest in the novel. But I just recently put a note in the novella that explains the full situation. Essentially, after the fifth chapter the stories diverge. So I’m telling readers that if they’re still interested after five chapters, then they could pick up the novel to get the full story. Or, they can just read the freebie and hopefully enjoy it for what it is (15 chapters instead of the full 85).

    More to come …

  18. “I thought the way you linked the novel with the novella was very smart – similar titles, similar covers. My first question is, who did the covers? They are really beautiful. And second, what price are you going to release the novel at?”

    I designed the covers, which is nothing short of a miracle because I can’t draw to save my life. I got the images from a stock photo site (I paid for a good resolution on the initial images) and did the layout with Fireworks, of all programs. However, I got a lot of help from friends on Facebook; without their suggestions, the cover wouldn’t look so good. I did eventually hire William Campbell to help me do a couple things I couldn’t do on my own (he made her lips a little redder and he helped me with the way her eye and lips can be sign on the helm side of the image).

    Pricing. I’m launching the book with a lower price for the first month so that my friends and fans can get it for $2.99. Beginning September 1st, I plan to go up to $3.99 or $4.95–probably $3.99 at first. Then, if I were to get lucky and the book were ever to take off, then I’d consider $4.95. I’d like to eventually settle on at least $4.95 for my novels, but this is all theoretical. And since this is my first book, even $3.99 could be tough to pull off (we’ll see). If they don’t sell as well as I’d like, then I’d certainly consider $2.99 or even $1.99 or 99 cents for limited periods of time.

    More to come …

  19. Interesting ideas. I’m performing a similar, but opposite experiment, holding the release of the first part of a series until I can follow close with the release of the second book. Already published traditionally, I don’t feel the pressure to credit my name for networking. But, holding the first book I want to self-publish makes me impatient to try the new experience. I empathize with your anguish during the waiting and reworking period. Patience is not my best virtue! Good luck with your upcoming release.

  20. I am about to bring out an ebook called LIGHTHORSE MAGIC AND OTHER STORIES, which features characters in my novel CEL & ANNA. C&A has been out there for about five months.
    I had been thinking 99 cents, but since the purpose of LIGHTHORSE MAGIC is to be a “loss leader” for the novel, the argument for making it free is compelling.

  21. Moses I’ve seen you around the web-sphere, I feel like I know you a little. I am very happy for your upcoming release. I think the novella teaser was a brilliant idea even if it didn’t go exactly how you thought it would. Especially with such a long novel, you could afford to give an excerpt.

    Are you going to sell the novel alongside the novella or are you going to take the novella off the market to keep buyer confusion down?

    I look forward to your release day.

  22. I am interested to learn how this actually pays off come release day/week/month. I think the idea of building a platform first is an excellent one, but one that too many of us have foregone–for various reasons. I applaud you, Moses, for not rushing your book to completion, and that is something many of us, again, could learn from.

    And if anyone cares what I think, I have read the novella and I am eagerly awaiting the full novel. As a teaser it was excellent, but as a satisfying read–well, it’s left me unhappy until I find out what happens next … which is exactly what the thing was supposed to do.

  23. Moses, this is a terrific idea, reworking the first chapter of your novel into a free novella to create “buzz.” I’ve downloaded it and “thumbed” through and am impressed with the writing and the presentation. Obviously you spent money on copy editing and on at least the cover if not the interior design. But I’m curious about the timing. I think you said you released the novella one year before the novel. I’m wondering about how long it takes to create “buzz,” and do you plan on releasing anything else between now and the novel’s release? Thanks for the post and for sharing your ideas. Susan

  24. I have a couple of questions for Moses when he comes along later:

    I thought the way you linked the novel with the novella was very smart – similar titles, similar covers. My first question is, who did the covers? They are really beautiful. And second, what price are you going to release the novel at?

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