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Offerings of free books must be promoted to succeed

This is an example of a "teaser banner" including elements from the book cover wuth also giving more information
This is an example of a "teaser banner" including elements from the book cover wuth also giving more information
M. St James

As free ebooks flood the market the question arises, "How effective are free giveaways these days?"

A few years back when the Kindle Select program was launched one of the requirements was for authors to commit to an exclusive renewable 90 day listing in exchange for the opportunity to give the Kindle edition of their books away free for limited periods of time--5 days within a 90 day period.

What is the benefit of an Amazon free Kindle book offering?

What exclusivity meant during those 90 days was that the book could not be available on Nook, Kobo, IBooks or any other ebook format. With the number of books offered increasing radically, the odds for the indie author to get thousands of downloads, and hopefully many reviews and cash after-sales, faced more and more competition. While Amazon is the "elephant in the room" other opportunities for mass distribution on sites like Smashwords expanded more and more.

In view of the changing market, now sometimes the Amazon Select promotions work, and sometimes they don't. A lot depends upon how much promotion is done in advance and how appealing the book seems. After copies are downloaded, how many are actually read? Of those read, how many reviews are posted? Are people who missed the offering motivated to lay out cash for the same book?

What an author must do to promote their book

The numbers are all over the place, and a 10% to 15% return is actually considered very good. The reality is some free promotions trigger paid sales afterwards and some don't. In a nutshell it is a "crap shoot" but still worth considering as a means to get more exposure for a book. Add to that the new Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 per month which offers a reader the chance to download far more free offerings per month than the Amazon Prime program, but has gotten mixed reviews. From the author's perspective, they only get paid if 10% or more of the book is read.

One of the keys is for an author, particularly a self-published/indie author, is to promote the promotion. If no one knows about the book or the offer, no one is going to download it. If the reader can’t find out anything about that author or their books, they might not get many hits, so it is essential to have a website, blogs and generally a presence on the web.

Many websites, both free and paid, like Free Booksy and Dirt Cheap Mystery Reads are dedicated to bringing free and bargain books to the attention of readers, and it is important to submit the book to those sites so they can make their readers aware of the offer. Websites like the Author Marketing Club make this easier by having links to many of these sites that can be accessed from their page. Or the author or publisher can opt for a paid service that will do all the submissions. In addition, posts must be made at least a few times a day if not more on all of the author's social media sites. Remember not everyone is reading their Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter page at the time. It can get lost in the deluge of posts, so it needs to be freshened. Another way to get the word out is to schedule tours of various blogs that concentrate on the genre of the book as a guest author.

A teaser banner is a big help. It can say more than just the book cover and should be alternated with the cover when posts are made.

Example of "promoting a promotion" vs little or no promotion

As an experiment of the difference between promoting and not promoting free days, Ripoff was submitted as a free Kindle book from July 30 through August 1 to more than twenty free and bargain book sites. Blog and social media posts were made throughout the three days, and the teaser banner was alternated with the book cover in various posts. As of 10:00 a.m. on the first day, close to 1,000 copies had been downloaded--twice as many downloads as the entire total for a three day free offering of a different Kindle book a few months before that wasn't heavily promoted. The final number of downloads was over 5,600 and the book was in the Top 100 Free Books for over two days. #1 through #5 rankings were achieved in two categories in Top 100 Free books. When the book makes it into the Top 100 Free Books, or ranks in any particular category, it becomes far more visible to those looking for free books and the downloads increase rapidly.

When the promotion was over, some downloads continued, mostly from the Kindle Unlimited program and a few paid. One review has been posted so far and unfortunately it wasn’t like the 4s and 5s already on the page. Apparently the book was not that reader’s cup of tea, and that's okay. The things they cited as no good in the review were the very things the other reviewers liked. So, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. The book is still ranking in one category in Paid Kindle books and the overall rank is much higher than it was before.

Was it worth it? The answer is yes if some of the 5,600 people read the book and post reviews. Even if they don't, the book was exposed to thousands of views. The jury is out on how long to keep an ebook exclusive to Amazon, though. For this example, Ripoff will be available in other platforms after mid-September.


Morgan St. James is the author of 11 books and over 600 published articles about the craft and business of writing. For more information visit and She also publishes the bi-monthly ezine Writers' Tricks of the Trade, and the link to the current and archived issues can be found on the blog.

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