Free E-book Promotions—Are They Right for You?

If you’re a self-published author, you know it’s an arduous task to get your books noticed, and as the self-publishing industry continues to expand, there is a growing difficulty for authors to stand out. Kindle claims to have close to 4 million e-books in its store, and I’ve heard recent estimates that 40-45% of them were written by indie authors. That means we authors need to work hard and smart when it comes to selling our books.

One way to get your books noticed is to offer them for free for a short period of time. I’ve heard arguments from both sides when it comes to authors who offer free e-book promotions.


Osmund Photo-featuredRed Clover osmundThis guest post is by Florence Osmund. After a long career in corporate America,  Osmund retired to write novels. “I like to craft stories that challenge readers to survey their own beliefs and values,” Osmund states. Florence’s website Novel Elements offers substantial advice for new and aspiring writers including how to begin the project, writing techniques, building an author platform, and book promotion. Florence lives in the great city of Chicago where she continues to write literary fiction. You can reach her at novelelements.com or @FlorenceOsmund.


The naysayers claim that giving away books:

  • Devalues the author’s work and reputation
  • Puts books in the hands of too many apathetic readers
  • Doesn’t offer a material ROI

But authors who have had successes giving away books claim the following outcomes:

  • Spikes in Amazon author and sales rankings
  • Increased post-promotion sales for the promoted book as well as other books by the same author
  • A surge in reviews
  • Increased traffic on the author’s website/blog
  • Increased exposure for the book and the author
  • Expanded word-of-mouth marketing
  • Opportunity to build on the author’s subscriber/fan list

In this article, I provide you with actual results of four free e-book promotions that I ran this year. You can decide for yourself if it makes sense for you and your book(s).

[6 Things to Consider After You Write Your First Draft]

Background

All four promotions were done through Amazon’s KDP Select program. In addition to the promotion sites listed in each of the scenarios, I used social media to promote the promotions.

I include Amazon sales rankings, author rankings, and reviews in the following promotion results because they are helpful in getting authors noticed. When you search for an item on Amazon and then scroll down the page, you’ll see the message, “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” Only their top ranked items appear under this statement, and people make buying decisions based on these suggestions. They also make buying decisions by looking at Amazon’s Top 100 lists and reading reviews.

Four Promotions with Investments Ranging from $15 to $290

  1. Regarding Anna, April 2015

This was one of my most successful free e-book promotions, and it was by mistake. Let me explain. I had intended to submit Red Clover to BookBub for promotion consideration, but because I had just spent the previous several months writing, re-writing, publishing, and promoting Regarding Anna, I must have had that book on my mind and submitted it in error. BookBub has limited space and is particular about who gets in, so when they accepted Regarding Anna, I went with it. It turned out to be a good misstep.

Period of time the e-book went FREE: April 18 through April 22

Sites I used that promoted the book for a fee: bookbub.com ($220), bookgoodies.com/ ($15), booktastik.com ($5), www.freeebooksdaily.com/ ($1), kindlebookpromotions.com/ ($20), storyfinds.com/ ($5), www.thefussylibrarian.com/ ($15)

Number of sites that promoted the book for no fee: 34

Total investment: $281

Number of free downloads: 76,769

Reached #1 Amazon best sellers rank for literary fiction and women’s fiction
Reached #1 Amazon best sellers rank for all e-books
Highest Author Central rank: #36 in literary fiction, #645 in all e-books, #733 in all books

Number of e-books sold or borrowed during the 30 days prior to the first day of the promotion: 450 (15/day) approximation

Number of e-books sold or borrowed during the 30 days following the promotion (including during the promotion): 4,648 (155/day)

Number of Amazon reviews during the 30 days following the first day of the promotion: 137 averaging 4.4 stars

Verdict: This promotion was clearly a winner. In addition to the 4,648 e-books sold/borrowed during the 30 days following the promotion, another 1,244 of my other three books were sold/borrowed. That probably wouldn’t have been a stellar month for someone like John Grisham or Nora Roberts, but for me, that was a good month.

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]

  1. Boxed Set: The Coach House and Daughters

For this promotion, I boxed my first book (published in 2012) and its sequel (2013) into one unit. They hadn’t been selling that well individually, and the reviews weren’t that great. Best decision I’d ever made.

Period of time the e-book went FREE: August 6 through August 10

Cost of the bookbub.com promotion: $290

Number of sites that promoted the book for no fee: 32

Total investment: $290

Number of free downloads: 42,547

Reached #1 Amazon best sellers rank for literary fiction and historical fiction
Reached #2 Amazon best sellers rank for all e-books
Highest Author Central rank: #70 in literary fiction, #1,229 in all e-books, #1,954 in all books

KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) read during the 30 days prior to the promotion and prior to bundling the two books together: 65,420 (2,181/day)

KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) read during the 30 days following the promotion (including during the promotion): 1,672,786 (5,576/day)

Number of e-books sold or borrowed during the 30 days prior to the promotion and prior to bundling the two books together: 52 (2/day)

Number of e-books sold or borrowed during the 30 days following the promotion (including during the promotion): 124 (4/day)

Number of Amazon reviews during the 30 days following the promotion: 65 averaging 4.7 stars

Verdict: Bundling these two books together was clearly the right thing to do—KENP read more than doubled following the promotion as did e-books sold. And reviews went from low 4 stars to 4.7.


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  1. Red Clover, September 2015

For this one, I chose eight paid sites and 45 free sites to promote the free e-book.

Period of time the e-book went FREE: September 5 through September 9

Sites that promoted the book for a fee: ereadernewstoday.com/ ($25), fkbt.com/ ($25), kindlebookpromos.com ($20), bookgoodies.com/ ($5), budgetbookworm.com/ ($5), freeebooksdaily.com/ ($3), snickslist.com/ ($2), www.ebookhounds.com/ ($5)

Number of sites that promoted the book for no fee: 45

Total investment: $90

Number of free downloads: 7,801

Reached #1 Amazon best sellers rank for sagas

Reached #2 Amazon best sellers rank for coming of age
Reached #51 Amazon best sellers rank for all e-books
Highest Author Central rank: #308 in literary fiction, #471 in historical fiction, #709 in all e-books, #7,734 in all books

KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) read during the 30 days prior to the promotion: 59,580 (1,986/day)

KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) read during the 30 days following the promotion (including the promotion): 60,848 (2,028/day)

Number of e-books sold during the 30 days prior to the promotion: 25

Number of e-books sold during the 30 days following the promotion (including the promotion): 34

Number of reviews during the 30 days following the first day of the promotion: 12 averaging 4.7 stars

Verdict: This promotion was only marginally successful in that the spike in KENP read and e-books sold following the promotion was sufficient to pay for the promotion and make a tiny profit. Shortly afterward, these figures dropped back to normal.

  1. Daughters, July 2015

I wanted to see results from a promotion that cost very little money and required very little of my time. So for this one, I used just one site only to promote the book and limited it to three days. I didn’t tell anyone else about it—not my family, friends, or anyone on social media.

Period of time the Kindle book went FREE: July 9 through July 11

Cost of robinreads.com promotion: $15

Total investment: $15

Number of free downloads: 5,819

Reached #1 Amazon best sellers rank for literary fiction and women’s fiction
Reached #31 in Amazon best sellers rank for all e-books
Highest Author Central rank: #331 in literary fiction, #4,901 in all e-books, #8,102 in all books

KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) read 30 days prior to the promotion: Not available

KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) read during the 30 days following the promotion (including during the promotion): 71,416 (2,381/day)

Number of e-books sold or borrowed during the 30 days prior to the promotion: 100 approximation

Number of e-books sold during the 30 days following the first day of the promotion: 56

Number of Amazon reviews during the 30 days following the first day of the promotion: 7 averaging 3.7 stars

Verdict: This promotion is a little harder to evaluate since the KENP program only went into effect on July 1, so it’s a little like comparing apples to oranges before and after the promotion. What I can say is that with just five minutes of my time and a $15 investment, the results weren’t too bad.

Parting Thoughts

In the beginning, I wasn’t keen on giving away e-books—I figured I had put too much work into them and spent too much money on editing, cover design, and formatting to offer them for free. And I worried about what people would think—that I put such little value on my books I was willing to give them away. But now, although the glut of free e-books has made it harder to achieve success, I consider giveaways just another good marketing strategy in a very competitive industry, and as long as I write a good quality book, I don’t think I’m devaluing myself or my books when I offer them for free.

Being a self-published author is no different than any other kind of business—you need a marketable product, a target audience, and the right exposure. If you are interested in reading about other marketing strategies I use, please visit my author website novelelements.com where I share just about everything I know about what it takes to succeed at being a self-published author.

For synopses and first chapters of my books, please visit my book website florenceosmundbooks.com.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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