Free Book Marketing: Converting to Direct Sales

Free book marketing

When I began as a new author, I was advised to put a free book out to get my name out there.  I wrote an 8K story in one day and put it out there for the five days free, and later converted it to permafree on Amazon. I don’t know whether it helped raise my visibility or not. I certainly did have a ton of downloads, and three years later, it still is being “bought” but in retrospect, I don’t know if I think that really represents me or my best work. I mean, short stories are naturally a different beast–and I wrote it quickly, not wanting to spend too much time on something I wouldn’t be making any money on.

The next time I ran a five day free promotion on KDP Select, I leveraged it better. I’d written a vampire spanking story which I loved (Deathless Love) but unfortunately, it never took hold on Amazon, and didn’t sell well.  The characters were still talking to me, so I wrote a follow up story, Deathless Discipline, which was around 5 or 6K and, worried that would be too short for the people who actually paid $.99 for it, added in another short story set in the same place as the other two books.  I included a spicy excerpt from Deathless Love in hopes of promoting my overlooked baby.  Again, I had a ton of downloads, but even better, Deathless Love had its best month in sales ever.  So it worked!

This month I tried again with a new twist on the strategy. I released a full-priced book The Alpha’s Hunger and its free counterpart The Alpha’s Punishment (a 12K story heavy on the sex and spanking, light on plot) at the same time.  As with the Deathless Love experiment, my publisher used a similar cover, just changing the color scheme and titles out. Again, I included a hot chapter from the paid book and the link, so readers could click right from their Kindles. I released the first paid book two days in advance (I would have preferred three days, but two days worked better to get it into my publisher’s newsletter).  I was concerned about dividing my own marketing efforts and the attention of my fans with releasing the two books in the same week, but on the other hand, we know with the Amazon algorithm, that early sales are crucial for getting those “also bought” recommendations, so I didn’t want to do it months later as I’d done with Deathless Discipline. Another drawback of this method, perhaps, is that I couldn’t measure how many of the paid book sales came from the free book, and how many are just because people like new shifter D/s books and would’ve bought it anyway.

Anecdotally, though, a number of readers mentioned either on Facebook or in reviews that I was a new author to them and they bought The Alpha’s Hunger after reading the freebie, so I know at least some of my sales are coming from the free promotion. This is also the first time I’ve hit #1 in a paid category. Ironically, I’d been focusing my efforts on getting the free book to #1, and was a little disappointed that it didn’t quite make it (it hit #2 in free BDSM for about a minute), only to be delighted by the even better prize. Overall, I had a little over 2500 downloads of The Alpha’s Punishment during the five day free period and sold 700 copies of the full-price book The Alpha’s Hunger that week (of which, about 100 came in the two days before the free book came out).

How to make this strategy work for you:

  • Write the free story using the same characters from the full-priced book and allude to their story in a way that leaves people wanting to know more. For example, in mine, I dropped hints like having the hero remind the heroine that this is like the first time he punished her, after she put a bomb in his briefcase.  I didn’t explain any more, hoping that would be enough to whet their appetite. Be careful not to give away any spoilers here, though.
  • Include an enticing section from the paid book, and link the paid book right in the text of the free book.
  • Tweet constantly during the five day period
  • Post on all the appropriate Facebook groups once a day
  • Announce it in appropriate Goodreads groups
  • Share snippets from the free book on your blog every day
  • Send out the notice in your newsletter
  • There are a number of sites to list your free book, some cost money, some don’t. Many require up to a month’s advance notice. If you’re all the ball, submit your info to these sites (I wasn’t on the ball, so I didn’t do this step).

Don’t be Shy

Don’t be shy about shameless promotion, because it’s FREE–you’re giving something away. Consider it a treat for your audience, something they’d want to discover. Author Sue Lyndon says, “Offering a free book on Amazon is a great way to gain new readers. It’s also a nice way to thank your previous fans by giving them a little something for free. There are hordes of free books on Amazon, though, so getting noticed among thousands of free books can be challenging. You might find you have to promo your butt off just to get people to download your free book!”

Making it Permafree

If you decide to make it permanently free on Amazon, Author Anita Cox just advised the Erotic Author’s Guild that she had better luck getting Amazon to make a book permafree by simply contacting them through Author Central (versus asking all your friends to report a lower price). While this violates their terms which says you can’t price lower elsewhere, it is more direct and can get the job done faster.

When not to use the free book strategy

If you’re planning on have the free book go up to full price after the five day promotion, you might want to consider this: it will screw up your “also bought” recommendations.  Because lots of people download a free book just for the hell of it, you will get buyers outside your usual niche, and this will muddy your recommendations. You may not get recommended next to the books that are most similar to your own, and therefore, most enticing to your readers.  Author Celeste Jones shares her experience with this: “I had a book that had been out for about eight weeks. It was my first self-published book and though it wasn’t a blockbuster, I was pleased with sales. However, when I made it available as a free book, it totally tanked. There were many downloads, I think about 1500, but the ever important Amazon “also boughts” completely changed. Before the free promo my book was linked with other spanking books, but once it was free, it got linked with free books of all genres and it lost the momentum it had with being linked to similar books. “

Comment List

  • Cara Bristol 18 / 05 / 2015 Reply

    Great article, Renee. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • JoAnne Kenrick 18 / 05 / 2015 Reply

    fascinating article, and I hadn’t considered the messed up “also bought” section due to a freebie. That’s a really good point worth considering.
    Thanks for writing this food for thought piece.

  • Livia Grant 19 / 05 / 2015 Reply

    Thanks for sharing, Renee. Great info and I’m thrilled for you that you are having such success with these books. I loved them!

  • Kallista Dane 20 / 05 / 2015 Reply

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I was very interested in finding out how this marketing strategy worked for you. But to be fair, your success comes from the fact that you write great stories, not just from giving away free books.

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