Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Way I See It: FREE, Your Ticket To Big Sales

Let's face it, for those of us trying to make a career out of writing, Free can be a dirty word.  When I came on the scene in 2009 with Never Slow Dance With A Zombie, the last thing I wanted to do was give books away.  However, my thoughts began to change when I read an article in late 2009 by another Tor author (NSDWAZ was published by Tor).  I don't remember the author's name or his books; what I do remember is the start of me thinking differently.

Here's the story as I recall it: The author was contacted by Tor because they wanted to give away ebook copies of his current novel on the Tor website.  At the time, Tor had an online program where they gave free ebooks away every month. Tor's thinking was the author had a new book due out. They liked his original book a lot, and felt by giving it away it would put him on the radar of more readers just as his new book was about to be released.

The author agreed.  He felt sales for the first book had run their course.  Why not use it as a promotional tool?  But that's not exactly what happened.  The more ebooks he gave away.  The more books he sold.  His first novel began climbing in the rankings all over again.  People began buying the book even though it was available for free on the Tor website.  When the new book came out, it, too, began selling immediately.  Suddenly the author had two success stories.

I was shocked when I read the article.  Why would people pay for a book if it's available for free?  It didn't make sense. I asked a marketer friend who told me people were obviously talking about the book, and they were saying good things.  When people heard about the book they went out and bought it.  The people who were talking about the book weren't saying: "I just read a great free book."  They were simply saying: "I just read a great book."

In the digital age nothing propels sales faster than word of mouth.  This includes online reviews and mentions on Facebook, blogs and Twitter.  The best and easiest way to get more books in more people's hands so they can talk about them, is to give some of your books away. In the digital age, FREE is your ticket to big SALES.  The Amazon KDP Select Program is a great way to explore giving a book away.  I won't go into program details here.  If you'd like to know more about the program go here: AMAZON KDP SELECT.

What I would like to do, however, is share with you the results of a KDP Select Giveaway by author Michael R. Hicks:


Not to put too fine a point on it, SEASON OF THE HARVEST completely fell off the apple cart after its meteoric rise from its release in February through amazing sales through summer. But starting in September, sales went…poof. It went from a ranking of around 300-400 overall in the Kindle store through summer to kerplunking to the mid-20,000 rankings most of the time from September onward. Nothing I did – focusing more on promotion, dropping and raising the price, etc. – seemed to have much effect. And sales in the other channels (B&N, Sony, etc.) didn’t amount to much, either.

So let’s see what happened with this little KDP Select experiment:

Week ending 17 December:
Paid copies sold: 24

Week Ending 24 December:
Days free: 21-23 December
Free copies sold: 15,577
Paid copies sold: 163

Week Ending 31 December:
Paid copies sold: 1,433

My first comment when I saw the numbers was, “Holy crap!” HARVEST went as high as the 20s in the free category, and jumped into the top 100 in the paid category when it went out of freebie status. And even now, a week after it returned to paid status, it’s still at 1,200 overall in the store. Again, not tons of hang time at the top, but certainly better than being down in the tens of thousands. On top of the direct sales, there were also around 600 Amazon Prime borrows, which ain’t bad at all!

You can find the entire Michael R. Hicks post on his website. And for those of you wishing to make writing books your career, he has a series of posts about what you need to know before you turn pro.  His webite is here: AUTHOR MICHAEL R. HICKS.

Today I give away books all the time.  This afternoon I put 8 books in the mail (which I know can be costly) and sent out another 10 in pdf form.  I know Boyfriend From Hell and its sequel, Earth Angel, are good books. The time they've spent on the Amazon top 100 BEST SELLER LIST in their categories tells me that.  Yet, despite how well I do with sales, I continue to give books away.  I do it because the more books I give away, the more people will talk about my books; the more people talk about my books, the more books I will sell.  So, if you want to have big sales, do not hesitate to give books away.  At least, that's the way I see it.



  1. I totally agree with this!
    When I entered the world of blogging and all that, the first time I received a book for free I didn't understand why the author would do that! But now a day I receive books even from publisher, and now I get what's the point of that. Because after you read it you post your comment all over the web (blog, netgalley, amazon, goodreads) and what better advertising than that one... and then people will want the book, and will buy it even if it's free somewhere.
    The world of internet sometimes works in misterious ways.

  2. As an author/book blogger, this article makes a ton of sense! I've had a lot of my readers buy books because I recommended it through my blog. So one free book generated 10 book sales so to speak. As a starving writer it makes me cringe at the thought of giving away free book, but I know in the end it will really work.
    Janiera @This is From my Heart

  3. Great post E!
    I love reading this series of posts and congratulations again on the top 100. We went on to see it and at the time it was ranked above some top rated authors! So Awesome.
    And people if you haven't read the books ... then you don't know what you're missing!
    S.B. Rodgers

  4. Thanks E,
    I put my book on Goodreads giveaway and 477 contestant entered. That's 477 people that didn't know it existed before. I am impatiently waiting to see how this effected sales (which I will find out in early April)... In the meantime I have some work to do!
    Cheers, Ursula

  5. Interesting post as always. I don't object to giving away books every now and then. I am a little leery of KDP Select for the simple fact of exclusivity. Amazon hasn't taken over the world just yet. There are still some Nook owners out there. Plus, I have my own site where I sell my writing as well (which just reminded me that it is in need of updating).

    But that's not to say I don't have a close eye and ear on what people are saying who are using it. And again, I don't mind giving some stuff away. This was a good reminder post to hit up Goodreads.

    Paul D. Dail

  6. Great blog. That def makes me think differently- and anytime you can make someone think differently is a job well done. =)