Going Free on KDP? Here’s How My Recent Giveaway Worked Out

For new, indie, and self-published writers, the question of whether or not to take advantage of Amazon’s free days as part of your enrollment in KDP is one to take seriously. I’ve posted about this before after being doubtful regarding the benefits of giving my books away, but I’m definitely a convert. The rules of the game have shifted some in the last few months, but generally it’s still a good deal.

The cons of going free? Well, you don’t get any royalties for the books you give away. Also, there are a lot of people who download and never read, as well as people who download for free outside of their interests and then post negative reviews when they “didn’t get it” after reading a few pages. The biggest downside is that you have to have your book available through Amazon exclusively to take advantage of this program.

The benefits? Exposure to lots of (potential) readers who wouldn’t have heard of your book otherwise or wouldn’t have been willing to risk their 3 or 4 dollars on an unknown author. With that exposure comes the possibility for more reviews, which will drive future sales. Your book also starts showing up in the lists of “also bought” on other books’ Amazon pages, so that’s more exposure down the line. Also, the bump your book gets in the “free” rankings on its free days can translate into higher positions on the search algorithms once it’s no longer free, but this doesn’t seem to be as big a benefit as it used to be.

Of course, the other benefit to going free, the one in the backs of many writers’ minds, is that if enough copies get out there, a chain reaction will begin. Word of mouth will spread. And maybe, just maybe, the all-important RIGHT PERSON will read the book–you know the one: the famous actor or director looking for a new project. It’s the literary equivalent of the old story about Lana Turner being discovered in Schwab’s drugstore; someone Lana_Turner_in_Dramatic_School_trailerstumbles across your book and then shouts gleefully in your direction, “You, kid! You’re the one I’ve been looking for! Kid, I’m gonna make you a star!” As far as I know the whole Lana Turner story is a myth, making it sort of a fantasy squared. At any rate, having one’s book optioned by Brad Pitt just isn’t likely to happen as a result of going free, but we can keep dreaming.

I’ve done several free days for my books over the last 6 months with mostly good results and just completed a 4-day giveaway of my time travel novel, Take Back Tomorrow. With some of those free days I’ve done a lot of set-up and for some I’ve done none. This time out, I did a lot of preparation with very good results.

So if you’re thinking of going free, here are the steps I followed and where they got me.

Two weeks before going free, I contacted several free Kindle promotion sites and notified them of the upcoming giveaway. You can find a good listing of such free sites here. Some require at least 2 weeks, others 48 hours, and some only want to be notified on the actual first free day. The thing about these sites is they don’t promise to list your book on its free days; they get loads of requests every day and can only list so many. They do, however, offer guaranteed listings for a small fee. In the past I opted to take my chances, hoping at least one site would pick up my listing to help spread the word. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. When my books were promoted only by myself and my social networking, the number of downloads stayed below 500. On the days when at least one promo site picked up my listing, I gave away more than 1000 in a single day.

This time out, I opted to spend $60 on guaranteed listings, treating it as an investment and hoping I’d at least break even. To do this, I’d have to sell 22 copies of my books after the free promotion ended–let’s say within 2 weeks. Any sales after that wouldn’t necessarily be a result of the giveaway.

Additionally, I re-wrote my book’s description. I spent a lot of time on this, relying on the expert advice I’ve gotten as a member of the Writer’s Discussion community on Take Back Tomorrow CoverGoogle+. I also revamped my web pages, cleaning them up and doing what I could to make the book pages more attractive. I’m not a copywriter or a web designer, so all of this has been strictly on-the-job training for me, and I’m still learning. You can see the resulting page and book description here.

Some advice sites suggested raising the book’s price before going free to make it seem like a bigger bargain. I did, bumping the price from $3.99 to $6.99 a couple days before going free. Interestingly, I did sell one copy at $6.99 in the interval.

On the days that the book was free, I spread the word on Facebook and Google+, encouraging others to share the links. Several people did. One thing I haven’t done yet is use Twitter. I know, I know–it’s got a lot of potential. But I’m finding right now that keeping up on Facebook and Google+ takes up enough of my time; I’m not sure I’ve got the time for Twitter, too.

I also checked to make sure the sites I’d paid for promotion had actually followed through: they had.

Then it was time to watch the numbers. The first day was slower than I thought it would be given the number of sites promoting the freebie: about 700 downloads by the end of the day. I hit #16 on the list of free science fiction and #1 on the free time travel list (only about 30 books on that list, but hey! #1 is still pretty good). The second day was slower. The book crept up to #6 in the free SF list but then dropped back to #17, and there were around 300 downloads that day.

I assumed that the third day would go slower, that the people who were interested in the book already had it and that the numbers would dwindle. But then they started picking up again. Another promo site, one I hadn’t paid for a guaranteed listing, picked the book up, and everyone who follows that site saw the book. The numbers shot up again. At one point, Take Back Tomorrow was being downloaded 4 times a minute. By the end of the third day, I’d given away more than a thousand more books, so I added a fourth day and the book had pushed its way back up to #6 on the list.

That was Sunday, typically a slow day for free books (don’t ask me why; I don’t know). The book spent almost all day at #3 in free science fiction.

Screen Shot 2013-05-19 at 12.54.13 PMAltogether, I gave away 3059 copies to US readers and 106 international, mostly UK.

Was it worth the $60 I spent in promotion? Given that two-thirds of my downloads came as a result of a listing I didn’t pay for, I’d say this would have been a successful promotion without my having spent any money. Still, this has shown me that spending some money to guarantee listings is useful. I just wouldn’t spend that much again next time.

Of course, if Brad Pitt’s reading, maybe I won’t need to.


5 thoughts on “Going Free on KDP? Here’s How My Recent Giveaway Worked Out

  1. That is such a great wealth of information. Thank you. I am a few months away from putting my work out there, and the research alone is overwhelming. Your blog (and your writing) has given me a sense that the indie route is viable.

  2. Thank you so much for publishing your experiences. I am trying to get the message out about my book at the moment and seem to be doing lots and lots of things with little success. It is so hard to know what is the best thing to do with all of these options so I found it really useful to read your first rate account of what you had experienced. Thank you.

  3. This is really helpful information.
    Just some helpful marketing info: I downloaded the book because of the short story you recently had published and posted a link to on your blog. I really enjoyed the story, so I figured I’d enjoy the book. I haven’t had time to read it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

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