Sunday, November 18

Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales

Writers: How To Use Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales

I discovered Lindsay Buroker's blog only within the last few months but within that brief time it has become one of my favorites. A couple days ago Lindsay posted an article I want to share with you about how to improve the sales of your books.

Don't Put All Your Eggs In One Basket = Don't Put All Your Books In Amazon

Don't put all your books in one estore even if that store is Amazon. KDP Select can be a wonderful tool to sell books, but it's not a good idea to keep your books in the program indefinitely.

Select can do wonders for increasing your book's visibility, but then experiment. Try out other venues. You can still keep it at Amazon, just not in KDP Select.

Don't misunderstand, I think Amazon is great. But none of us knows what the future holds. What if Amazon were to become less indie friendly? My mother told me to hope for the best and expect the worst.

Also, Kris Rusch has a great point: the more estores your books are in the easier it is for your readers to find them. If you want to turn readers into true fans then making it easy for them to buy your books is a good start. (See: Does Amazon KDP Select Drive Away True Fans?)

How To Market Your Books In Other Venues

Most venues, particularly Barnes & Noble, don't give books the same kind of exposure as Amazon, so what are the most effective ways to increase the visibility of your books in these less friendly markets?

Lindsay tried:

- the Nook Boards & Mobile Read
- the UK Kindle Users Forum (there's also the US Kindle Users Forum)

Lindsay used the forums to chat with readers and writers and she gave away coupons. She concludes:
In general ... I find forums to be a time sink. You can spend a lot of hours there and earn few, if any, sales. I generally only recommend forums for people who enjoy being a part of that sort of community anyway.

The Power Of Perma-Free

What ended up working for Lindsay was making one of her books permanently free and distributing it as widely as possible. People loved her work, went looking for more, and when they found her other books they were happy to pay for them. Lindsay writes:
What did make a difference for me, especially with Amazon UK and the international Apple stores, was having a book permanently free on those sites. I’ve talked a lot about this before, but I made my first Emperor’s Edge book (and eventually my first Flash Gold novella as well) free at Smashwords about a year ago. I had the freebies distributed through their partner sites, and Amazon eventually matched the price.

What took longer, but did eventually happen, is that Amazon UK (and DE, ES, IT, etc.) price-matched the ebook to free as well. That’s when I started seeing sales of my other books in those stores. It was a similar process for iTunes. It’s taken a while for the free ebooks to percolate through, showing up in the international Apple stores, but I’m now selling books every month in Apple AUD, DKK, GBR, etc. and am making between $1,500 and $2,000/mo overall in overseas sales.

A couple of tips:

- Make the first book of a series perma-free.

- Free works best if the book is permanently free. The only way to make your book free in certain markets is to offer it for free on a site like Smashwords. Price-matching bots/spiders will come along notice it's free, tell momma spider about it, and then momma spider will change the price on her site as well. This process can take months though.

The Benefits of making a book perma-free

- A huge benefit of using a perma-free book for marketing is that it requires no additional time investment on your part.

- Free book catalogs are the new libraries. As libraries continue to feel the economic crunch, more and more readers are using free book catalogs as though they were libraries to discover new authors. If they read your book and like it, they'll buy more.

It All Adds Up

You've heard of the death of a thousand cuts? The idea is that you can receive one cut and it's shallow and you bleed a little bit but that one cut is no threat to your life. If you receive a thousand of them, though, or tens of thousands of them, well, that's a different story.

It's the same with books, only in a happy way. You might only earn 10 dollars from one store over six months, 20 dollars from another, and so on, and by itself ... 10 dollars, 20 dollars, those amounts are negligible. They're not going to buy food for the day let alone pay the rent! But if you earn 10 dollars from 200 stores, well, then it begins to add up.

Perma-Free: An Experiment

I've blogged before about writing 15 novellas, 3 per series, and then bundling them into 5 series and offering them on Amazon though KDP Select. One advantage of this strategy is that a book would be free at all times.

Another strategy--and I believe someone suggested this in the comments--would be to permanently set the first novella of each series to free and offer them on every available platform. (See: How To Earn A Living As A Self-Published Writer)

The perma-free strategy would take longer. It takes time to get your books into all possible markets and it would take time for the first book/novella of each series to be set to free, but over time I could see it being more lucrative than keeping them all in Amazon's KDP Select Program.

If anyone has done this I'd love to hear from you!

All quotations have been from Lindsay Buroker's wonderful article: How Do You Improve Sales at Amazon UK, Apple Overseas Stores, and Other International eBook Sites?

Update: I wrote a squeal to this post a few days later: Using Permanently Free Books To Increase Sales: Part 2

#  #  #

NaNoWriMo Update: I'm at 32,462 words, a bit short of the 33k I was aiming for. I'm going to try and make that up tonight and have 35k done by the end of the day. * crosses fingers! *

Other articles you might like
- The Nature of Creativity: Science And Writing: Don't Edit Yourself
- Pixar Luminary Andrew Stanton's TED Talk: Make Your Reader Care
- Time Management For Writers: Nanny For Chrome

- Self-Publishing Success Stories. I didn't directly refer to this in my article, but it's an amazing list! Here you'll fund hundreds of indie publishing success stories. Inspirational!

Photo credit: "Campos de cultivo" by (Xip) under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Eric Flint at Baen Books has long championed the idea of making some books free. He created the Baen Free Library, Baen books readers can download for free. His results? Increased sales volume.

    Sorry. No link. Can't find it. But his data and his essay are somewhere out there on the web.

    1. Thanks Antares! I think this is the link:
      I didn't know the Baen Free Library existed, thanks for the info!

  2. Here is one link:
    Still looking for the one with numbers.

    Mr Flint also did a series entitled Prime Palaver. Each installment addresses the growth of the Baen Free Library and the customer response.

    Glory, glory, hallelujah! I found the article in which Eric Flint posted his sales AFTER making _Mother of Demons_ free! That is, the one with numbers. Here 'tis (warning: 'tis long):

    To my knowledge, Mr Flint is the only author who has made the case for making work free to promote book sales AND has the results to back up his claim. I am persuaded by his results.

    1. A wealth of information! Thanks Antares. I look forward to looking at Mr. Flint's post promotion sales figures to see what the effect was.

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks! :-) I keep wanting to call you Mac, but R is your first initial. It's a little debate I have with myself. (grin)

  4. Seems like I was reading something similar to this recently... only the idea was to have all books available for free all the time. Have an HTML version, and then paid e-books, but available for Prime checkouts on Amazon, paper version, even if it's just print on demand etc.

    There was some study about people who read books for free tended to buy it later as a gift, or to finish reading it in a more convenient format, and tended to read other works by the same author...

    I am going to need to look for the article again... but I have noticed a couple of indie authors that I read almost always post their books for free online, and I have definitely noticed that I buy all of them that look interesting even if there is a free version available.

    1. Interesting! I'll look for that.

      David Gaughran indie published his book, Let's Get Digital, and released the PDF version free. It's still free to download on his site.

      There's a donation button there, but anyone can still download it free. But it's also on sale at Amazon, etc.

      David is one of those wonderful people who publishers their sales figures from time to time and the book has made him a lot of money.

      Also I think (I haven't double-checked) that Seth Godin generally offers his books free in ebook form and, naturally, charges for the paper book.

      Thanks for mentioning this Leauxra, I think I need to do a "part B" to this post. :-)

  5. Meant to weigh in on this a few days ago when I first read it, but I didn't have my sales data handy to reference. I have two books set to perma-free, the results are thus:

    Released my first book in June 2011. Between then and June 2012 I never sold more than low double digits (best month was something like 25 sales across 3 novels and 2 short stories).

    Set my first series book free in my high fantasy series in July 2012, my urban fantasy series first book permafree in September 2012.

    July 2012: 169 sales
    Aug: 319
    Sep: 1759
    Oct: 2727
    Nov (so far): 3008

    Most of these are at $4.99 or their foreign equivalent. Hope this helps give a little inspiration or data to make a decision off of, at least.

    Needless to say, I highly recommend perma-free.

    1. Robert, I appreciate you sharing your experience with us, and it was very generous of you to share your (excellent!) sales numbers. I've written to you to get your permission to quote from your comment in my follow up article.

      By the way, for anyone interested, Robert's books have excellent reviews and look like great reads from what I've seen. I've downloaded his pera-free books (Defender: The Sanctuary Series & Alone: The Girl In The Box) and gleefully anticipate reading both series. Here are those links:



      Enjoy! :-)

  6. An interesting and largely accurate post, thanks Karen :) I started my whole campaign of marketing myself as an author by releasing perma-free short story ebooks through numerous sites. I followed this up by releasing novelettes at minimum price, two as directly connected to one of the short stories. At the same time, I released novelettes from a series that had NO connection to a short story. Both did about as well as each other in sales terms (okay, neither have had great success - so far). I would be reluctant to release any of the longer works as perma-free, given this record ;)


Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.