When does it make sense to give away your eBook as a free download?

Posted on Posted in The Prolific Author

This is your business and you have worked hard to create a product which you are going to sell to generate an income.

Professionals do not work for free.

Would you expect a plumber to install your bathroom as an example of his fine work and charge you nothing for his time and the years of training that he went through? Or an accountant to prepare your tax return for free?
No. And neither should you.

You don’t give your work away for nothing unless it is a clear part of your marketing strategy.

So when does it make sense to give away your eBook for free?

As part of your Book Launch Strategy if you are a debut author

If you are a debut author and do not have a large author platform, one great tactic is to launch your book on Kindle and register for the Kindle Select option.
This means that you have to commit to only publishing your book on Kindle Stores for the next 90 days – but it also means that you are allowed to set a price of FREE for your book for a 5 day period during those 90 days.
Many authors have chosen to use this option so that they have the maximum number of downloads in a short time, which kicks off the Amazon algorithm and brings your book up the Free Chart in your category.
Fiction readers love to read cheap or discounted books and will happily download hundreds of genre titles when they are on offer.
The hope is that the freebie hoarders will read the book and leave a review so that the real marketing push can take place after the five day free promotion, based on a large number of reviews to validate asking readers to buy the book.
To make this soft launch effective, most authors set a list price for their book of only 99 cents when they publish on Amazon KDP.  They then initiate a Kindle Select promotion for three or five days.

At the end of the promotional period, the next step is to stagger the price increase so that you revert back to the list price of 99 cents for a week then roll out the full price of $2.99 or $3.99 depending on the genre and word count of the book, when you have enough reviews and a good idea of the potential sales.

Disadvantages of using Kindle Select?

  • There are thousands of free eBooks available- why should they download yours?
  • Readers download the book while it is still on offer so that they can read it later. Only they may have hundreds of books on their list and yours may never be read.
    Very few readers will leave a review even if they do find time to read it.
  • There is a definite move away from free downloads for debut authors. People simply do not have the time to take a risk on a new author.
  • You may not make any sales once the free promotion comes to an end.
  • You have to agree to publish your work exclusively on KDP for a period of 90 days.
    Many genre authors have found that they have significant sales on other online publishing platforms in addition to the Amazon Kindle Store.
    Popular options include Kobo, Smashwords and iTunes for iBooks, but there are many more online publishing platforms where you can share your book with readers around the world.

Many authors launch in Kindle Select and then publish on other platforms after the 90-day period has ended. By that time, they should have excellent reviews that you can include in your book descriptions on the other sites.  And of course, your next book will be lined up in the queue and ready to launch.
By the end of the 5-day promotion, you should have some reviews for your book and see some movement in the free chart on Amazon.

It can help your Amazon Ranking when the Promotion ends

If you attract a lot of free downloads this in turn will trigger the Amazon algorithm and your book may feature in a hot new release list in your category when it comes off free and into the paid listing.
However – Your sales ranking on the paid Kindle sales chart only starts when you have your first sale.

Readers who download your free book will be generous and leave reviews

A few years ago this was a very effective way of reaching new readers and they were generous enough to thank you for the free book by leaving a review.
Now it is not nearly so effective.
Why? There are too many free or nearly free books all clambering for the attention of the same number of readers who are swamped with choice.
How many free eBooks have you loaded onto your eBook reader which you will probably never get around to reading?
And are you likely to review that book? Or simply delete it at some point in the future?
Think about it.
What you are asking strangers around the world to do is to take an hour or two, or even longer, out of their precious lives and then choose to spend that time reading your book, instead of enjoying the 1000 and one wonderful other forms of entertainment or information they are being bombarded with every day.
Those strangers have to decide on whether your eBook is worth their time.
The chances are that even if they do read it, or part of it, or even open the file, then there is an even smaller chance that they will finish it.
And an even smaller chance again that they will take the time to go to the Amazon link you have added at the back of your book and type in a review comment.

Unfortunately, not all readers will respond to your request to leave a review and you could be disappointed with the response.
My own experience is that for every 500 or so free downloads I may attract a few reviews.

How to use Free Downloads as part of a Strategic Marketing Plan

shutterstock_124904123- free  image of man on whiteboard - compressed

If you are a debut author and you are trying to build your author brand and platform long term, it may seem illogical to give your first book away for 5 days, but it can help if reviewers can pick up a free copy and give it a try. The risk is taken away. But you are still asking for their time so be totally professional and offer your very best work.

Message Stones

When you want to promote your Free Book within your targeted email list/blog subscribers and ask for reviews
Let your email list know that they can download your book for free. This is permission marketing and it is fair to mention that an honest and fair review would be appreciated. In this case you may only want to run your Kindle Select promotion for 2 or 3 days. Send a friendly email to let your reviewers know that the sales page or pages are now live and they can start adding their reviews.
These reviewers are giving you their most precious resource –their time.
Personalise every one of these messages and stress how grateful you are.
Give them the link to the book page on all of the book stores and the Goodreads page. Make it easy for them! And always thank them profusely for their time when the review is loaded.
Make it clear that y0u will do the same for them when they launch their books.
Either way, these readers will have the chance to read your book before it goes live on Amazon, which gives them more time to write a short review.
If you have some swag to offer a reviewer then be generous and always send a thank you message after they have posted a review.


When you have a Series of Linked Books
If you were writing a series of linked books and had several books available for sale and wanted to give the whole series a boost, then it might make perfect sense to make the first book in the series available as a free download for a fixed period of time. Especially if you were launching another book in the same series at the same time.
When your book has been available for long enough to have been validated by readers and have at least 10 good reviews and endorsements. Browsers may not know your name but they like your cover, the title and subtitle and can quickly scan the reviews to make sure that your book is for them.

Popular and very successful crime writers Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson both recommend that you have the first book of a series of linked books on promotion as ‘permafree.’
You cannot easily do this with Kindle books.
To make any book permanently free, then you have to publish on all of the popular online platforms such as Kobo, Nook and iBooks and set the price to zero. You can then tell Amazon through the contact details on the Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard that the first book of your series is free on these other sites and Amazon will then price match. Because they want the business when readers enjoy that first book and want to buy the others in the series.

If you do decide to offer your book for free then there are a large number of websites who will promote your book as a freebie and help you do the marketing.

You can promote your promote your free book on Giveaway Sites and Targeted Online Groups and attract new readers to your book who might buy your backlist and full price books

One advantage of using Kindle Select is that you can promote your book on the many websites who specialise in free Kindle books. Any search engine will pick up dozens of sites who will tell their subscribers about your book plus compilations.
Tom Corson-Knowles has a list of the main sites where you can promote your free kindle books.
Heather Hart also has a full list of promotion sites and also the full contact details for selected free book kindle site.
Groups of readers on Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter and other sites love free books which are specific to their particular niche and may download your free book if the cover and book description sparkles.

Twitter: There are almost 30 twitter links for free eBooks and you can add your own hashtag such as: #free, #freekindle, #freebook, #kindlepromo and #freeebook.
Popular sites to contact include: @IndieAuthorNews, @More4LessOnline, @eBookSoda, @book_tribe, @Kindleebooks, @kindletop100, @kindleowners, @FreeEbooksDaily and you can find many more by using the Twitter Search.
Goodreads: Free Romance Books on Kindle, Feeding the Kindle Addiction, Amazon Kindle Prime Readers & KDP Select Authors, and many more. Also make a note of 99 cent bestsellers for when you book comes off the promotion.

If your book is available for free all you need to do is send them the link and they can download it as normal from the Kindle Store.


Add Quotes from reviews to your Amazon Author Central

Once the book is live you can add the book to your profile on Amazon Author Central at both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
As soon as the book is added, start adding additional material about your book in the Editorial Reviews section. Include quotes from top reviewers and any endorsements at this point. These details will be published on the page for your book.

What happens when the Kindle Select free book promotion ends?
Phased and Full Price
Many authors decide to adopt a two phase pricing strategy and launch their book at a low price to encourage readers who want a low-risk option.
Immediately after the free book promotion, set the price to 99 cents, or $1.99 if it is a longer novel in a popular subgenre.
The phase two, full price band kicks in, when the book has at least ten good reviews on the book page and the book ranking has held or improved because of the additional downloads.

I know this all sounds complicated and that is because you need to plan your launch well in advance and know the benefits of all of the options before you decide to offer your book for free.

What do you do?

You can read a lot more about using free books as part of your marketing strategy in my latest book – learn more about it here – http://ninaharrington.com/25waystosellmoreromancekindlebooks

25 ways to sell more romance kindle books -cover image

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