Free Book Promotions That Make Sense

Last week I posted my feelings regarding how Indie authors are undervaluing their work. I have to say, the reactions were not quite what I expected. (Seriously, I thought I would get shredded.) Views poured in via Facebook, Twitter, post comments, and email. No one point of view was consistent with another. Interestingly, for as many points as people made, I learned enough along the way to hold my stance. (Honestly, I wasn’t so sure that would happen.)

Reader Reaction

Immediate reaction came from readers and authors. Readers said they fully supported my stance on not giving away work that took me a year to produce. New authors, who had slaved to make their book the best it could be, wanted some kind of acknowledgement that they had not given up having a social life in vain. So even though I have heard many people say, “I’ll get it when it is free,” the ones who do not share that attitude quickly stood up. Not one single reader or new author said I should give my work away.

However, readers also agreed that free books have turned then on to many authors. There was a down side though. One reader said that an author she found through a free book tends to rotate which book she gives away. Because of that, the reader admitted to not buying any books from that author. Frankly, I don’t fault the reader at all. That one is the author’s bad.

Other readers say they have become loyal because they found someone through a free book and will continue to purchase future work. (So yes, free can work, but read on, because if you want to be successful, there is more to the science.)

Author Reaction

The reaction among authors was varied. There were those who stood with me, firmly, those who spoke with valid reason as to how giving away books has helped them (Thank you all for that constructive insight!), and those that just plain flipped out.

There are authors out there on every level. Some have fancy titles, some don’t. Some always have strong Amazon rankings while others, who are about as successful overall, don’t. Some are good at keeping up appearances while others don’t need to. Then there are those who are new to the game and have yet to taste success. Nowadays, the title of bestseller can be subjective, not to mention that even a NYT Bestselling Author can be a flash in the pan. It is hard to judge who is hurting and who is succeeding.

Writers who had released only one novel said giving away their work was not very helpful. Some got some reviews out of it; others did not. Since not everyone who reads books reviews them, giving away books in hopes of reviews was a crapshoot. (Seriously, I’ve had hundreds of paid copies fly off of the shelves in a day. Two months later there may still be no new reviews. It can drive you nuts. Also, just because a book is downloaded does not mean it will get read.) All writers can do is hope readers who downloaded will buy the next book. In other words, the big problem here is they did not give people something else to buy.

Writers who had released more than one book told me the free promo worked much like a paid one. They got a high number of downloads, followed immediately by a boost in sales for their other books. The boosts ranged from a couple of copies to around a hundred, sometimes more. This was largely dependent on how successful the promo was and how well the author was already known. After that boost though, sales flat lined.

The best results, and the most insightful comments, were from writers I know to be successful. I’m not just talking about fancy titles. These are people who have strong (some may say jealousy-inducing) followings and tend to hold high, overall ranks on Amazon. These authors also have a ton of books out. For them, giving away books helped dramatically.

(I also noticed these people are serious go-getters. They don’t just throw books up on Amazon and hope for the best. They interact with people. They build a fan base. They network. They are also very personable.)

Here is the key: Their freebies were strategic. Successful writers rarely give away full-novels. They give away novellas, side stories, and prequels. In other words, they found success by giving away something intended as an ad. Once more, those giveaways were temporary, not perma-free. When it wasn’t promo time, those novellas have a price tag. Thus, when the reader got it for free, it felt like a real score as opposed to something anyone can get at any time.

Many successful authors also do bundle deals. If you buy the set of three books, the price makes it like getting the first one free.

In other words, successful Indie authors get selling books means running a business. You need to leverage product vs. prices. You need to show value. You also need to offer deals.

I have to say, this makes a world of sense and drives home what I said in my previous post. Don’t give away a year’s worth of work; give away a novella or short story. You can get the same results while giving readers something else on your shelf to buy.

That is the tactic I used with my Forbidden Flower books. I released the novella, Love’s Erotic Flower, as both a gift to the fans, who wanted an erotic side to the relationship, and a promo. A free-promo thousands of downloads with no advertising at all. Seriously, I didn’t spend a penny on it. I just said FREE and mentioned it on Facebook. Simple. Sales for my Forbidden Flower series shot up, and the word about it spread quickly. For years I could not go a day without at least a handful of sales of the actual novel. The giveaway lasted a week, and then the novella sold quite well at 99 cents until I decided to pull it for a variety of personal reasons. Investing a month of time writing that novella was a great move.

There is a very good chance I will do that again. My Rock and Roll Fantasy Collection is about to expand into a few more books and a couple of novellas. I have no problem making the first novella free when the time is right, but I will do it strategically. (That is another topic for another day.)



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  1. Wonderful follow-up, Diane! I think I fall flat in the go-getter arena. My bad. I have trouble promoting my books. I might be personable, but my marketing techniques leave much to be desired. The good news: It’s not too late to change my modus operandi!

  2. Thanks for sharing all the data you collected!

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