Tuesday, September 04, 2012

What do free giveaways on Amazon lead to? Lots of people getting your book for free.

Through the Labour Day long weekend, I used three of the five days out of ninety in which Amazon lets me set my book’s price to zero as a promotion. As best as I can figure it, over 1,400 people downloaded a full e-book copy of The Bones of the Earth gratis.

Of course, it’s done very little for my bank account.

Downloads versus rankings

As a member of Independent Authors International, a writers’ cooperative group, I participated in the group’s first Labor Day Free Reads event. Seven of us (see last week’s post) all set September 1 to 3 as “free days” on our Amazon Kindle Select accounts. We joined and/or notified I don’t know how many bloggers, portals, reviewers and Facebook groups to publicize it; we wrote and shared updates for our own Facebook pages and scheduled hundreds of tweets.

The giveaway began at midnight on September 1. While some participants thought progress was slow, for my own part, I was happy. I had over 300 downloads by Saturday evening, and when I got up the next morning, some 30 hours or so into the program, Amazon US was showing over 600 downloads. The UK site showed 39 downloads, plus one sale of The Bones of the Earth, Part One: Initiation Rites.

Some of the other participants noted that there were no downloads from the UK site after sometime on Saturday afternoon, September 1. It turned out there was some kind of glitch in Amazon.co.uk’s tallying system. I experienced it, too: while downloads from the US site climbed fairly steadily all weekend, the UK site was stuck at 39.

More exciting to watch were the rankings. By the end of Saturday, The Bones of the Earth had advanced to no. 1,300 or so in the Free lists, and by Sunday afternoon, September 2, it was number 2 in Historical Fantasy in Amazon.com’s US Free lists, and number 5 in Epic Fantasy; in the UK, despite only showing 39 downloads, it reached number 1 in Historical Fantasy!

After that, it started falling in the rankings, to number 3 and finally settling at number 5 in historical fantasy, and number 451 overall, by the end of the event, even though total downloads kept advancing.

Image: Creative Commons

Why did I give my book away for free after trying to sell it for so many months?

Good question. I’m glad I asked it.

Many other indie authors who have tried the Kindle Select giveaway program since it became available at the beginning of this year reported a sales spike immediately following the end of the giveaway period. For example, Russell Blake made his Geronimo Breach free for three days in January and saw about 12,000 downloads. “Then, when it went back to paid, a funny thing happened. After languishing for the first day, it shot like a rocket, finally hitting #165 in the paid Kindle store,” he reported in his blog.

Russell wasn’t the only one. I read similar stories from several other indie authors. But as time went on and more and more independent writers used the program, the results were less and less striking.

Still, I was hopeful. Writers I respected for both their writing and marketing ability kept using the program. In the summer, I participated as a supporter of the Book Pushalooza for Derek Blass, Elise Stokes, Robert Guthrie, Shannon Mayer and a few others. The planning and organization in that group effort was amazing.

Lessons learned

How did iAi Labor Day Free Reads go? For me, 1,400 downloads is great — it’s many times more copies than I have sold in the past 8 months, even if it was a small number compared to Russell Blake’s results.

Still, I have to keep that in perspective. Russell was already selling thousands of copies of his book before he had the giveaway.

Another lesson: maybe next time, I won’t do this over a long weekend. People, and readers are people, often go away from their computers during holidays.

Yet another lesson: I will participate for a longer period in the Facebook and other groups that I want to promote my book before asking them to do that.

And there are still more bloggers and reviewers to contact.

As far as sales go: strangely enough, I have sold 12 copies of The Bones of the Earth, Part 1: Initiation Rites at 99 cents through the weekend. I don’t understand this, because Part 1 is, as the title implies, the first part of the full novel. Part 1 came with parts 2 and 3 for free last weekend. I’m not complaining — four bucks is enough for two cups of good coffee. But it seems strange to me. I guess the fact that Part 1 is the first part of the full book is not that clear to some people. Anyway, I’m glad people bought the story, and I hope it makes them want to read the rest of it.

As for the hoped-for sales spike: I’m writing this during that first day after the end of the event, during which Russell Blake reported “languishing” sales. So I’ll watch my reports from Amazon. And I’ll let you know how it’s going.


  1. Very interesting post, will be interested to see how things turn out.

    Moody Writing

  2. I also gave away many copies of my novel for free. It resulted in no reviews and 27 sales. Was it worth it? I don't know. I'm just hoping that people will see other novels of mine and decide to buy them.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Scott!

  4. It's interesting stuff. The problem with getting something for free is that you just don't attribute the same personal value to it, and from my own standpoint, freebie books rarely go direct to the top of my "To Be Read" pile. What would work better on me is a free sample, I think -- if I like something, if I'm hooked, then I'll buy the whole book ASAP, and what's more, it'll have a strong personal value to me. Tough things, these freebie giveaways. Lots of psychology at work.

  5. I tend to agree with Neil's comments above about giveaways. One thing I would like to see on Amazon's site (and others) is to get something back for the freebie. If there were a mechanism to require a review for downloading a free book, then the author gets back something tangible. But obviously you cannot review something you haven't read yet. So maybe an electronic time bomb obliterates the eReader unless the user gives a review ;-) So absent that, I think the free sample is the next best thing.

    In any case, interesting stuff. Good luck with the promo.

  6. Hi Neil, interesting subject very much on my mind too. I think my work/sales are to you as you maybe to the others you referenced- so I guess I'm saying, SMALL. And as my first novel came close to completion I knew it had been a year since I'd published (the others are novellas). So I ran the first three out there for free (Smashwords) for July, just to rustle up some interest, maybe remind some readers I was there. The novel came out Labor Day (I know, mistake in some ways as you said, but I can always remember the release that way), and so far, sales have been "eh".
    We try everything, don't we, we treat it all like chicken soup. I don't regret giving the novellas away, and there continues to be a sample here and there. I think it will take me more time to get to a "broadband" platform. Meantime. We try everything because hey- chicken soup.

  7. This is interesting. I always wonder why people decide to give their books for free. I hadn't realized what it does for marketing. I'm kinda sad I missed it, hehe. Btw, do you sell hard copies of your books?

    1. Yes, I do. I sold several at my book launch event last September, and I had arranged to sell copies at a local bookstore that, unfortunately, closed.