I took a telemarketing call yesterday. It was a power company wanting me to switch my home’s electricity and gas to them. They convinced me — not on their massively cheaper prices, it was marginal, but because they offered me something for free — $200 credit on my first bill. Yes there was a quid pro quo — I had to sign up for about 14 months, but the free offer kept me on the phone for them to close the deal.

Free makes sales — that’s why marketers do it all the time.

Yet many authors react with horror at the idea of giving their books away for free. They consider it a statement about not valuing their work. That’s not the point — the point of giving books away for free is to make more sales.

Reviewers and media outlets have always got free copies. They don’t buy the books that are featured and reviewed — the books are provided free by publishers and publicists.

Giving a book away costs you a lot if it’s a printed book. If it’s an eBook however — it costs you nothing. But, how are you going to make money if you give the stock away for free?

The thing is you don’t give books away for free randomly. You do it for two specific reasons plus a third more obscure one.

  1. You give books away in return for reviews — just like publishers always have. Except now we give books away for free on Amazon.com — we give them direct to readers, and we hope that readers leave honest reviews.
  2. You create buzz — if people like your book they’ll recommend it — even if your book is now back to full-price some people will still buy.

Now, for the more obscure point:

  • After books have been free, and have had plenty of downloads, Amazon will show them higher in the paid listings, particularly if it keeps on selling. Plus the book will show in the “also boughts” listings under most books on Kindle. People who bought this book also bought … sells a lot of books — it’s a good way to discover a new author.
Amazon does this automatically once your book starts selling.  Free advertising on your competitors books.

Amazon does this automatically once your book starts selling. Free advertising on your competitors books.

How to give eBooks away for free

There are two main models.

  1. If you have a series of books — give the first book away for free, get the readers hooked, then make them pay for the later books. This is called having a book permafree.
  2. Have a book free for a limited time (usually 1 to 3 days), as part of a sales promotion. The purpose here is to raise awareness from readers and gain reviews on Amazon.

To make a book permafree on Amazon

To make a book permafree you have to play the game a little. Amazon doesn’t accept free books (from indie authors anyways). So list your book on Amazon at a price — I usually make it a bit high — maybe $4.99. Then also upload your book to Smashwords.com and get it to distribute the book to Apple and Barnes&Noble (and the others if you want).

On Smashwords make the book free.

Wait. Within a few weeks Amazon’s computers will notice that the book is free with its competitors and price match it. This is not perfect — the book will bounce in and out of free and sometimes looks like it’s paid in NZ but is actually free for US buyers (check your sales report to see the free downloads).

To make a book temporarily free

This is the exact opposite — you need to enrol your book in Amazon’s Select program — which requires the eBook (not the paper book) to be exclusive to Amazon for a 90 day period (after which you can chose to stay exclusive or drop the program). While enrolled in Select you can set the book free for up to 5 days (which you select and schedule).

To sum up

There are two barriers to getting a reader who doesn’t know you or your books to read you:

  • they have to commit money to buy your book
  • they have to commit money to read it.

Selling a book free removes the first barrier and can kickstart sales. But you need to promote your free offer — and that’s the next post!

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