Free book promotions – do they work

It is certainly a long time since my post about my free book promotion “Success is all about the brand“. Now I have the results I am no more sure about the benefits of a free book promotion.

All this is said in recognition that my book may not be good enough (aghhh – that was hard).

Sure, we have all heard of authors that became successful because they gave or give away books. I have a few observations before telling you more about the outcome of my giveaway.

  • We have no metrics to tell us what proportion of authors giving away their books sell more as a result.
  • Indeed, we have no way of unravelling the effects of the giveaways from other marketing efforts.
  • The successful authors have a series of books and, generally, gather a following with free copies of the first couple of books, then sell the rest.

Despite this knowledge, I decided to see what would happen if I gave away my book. I opted for three disparate days 2, 16 and 30 January. I chose 2 January as it was a Bank Holiday in the UK, 16 January because it is supposed to be the most depressing day of the year (according to research I disparage in my book) and 30 January because I didn’t want it to drag on and take focus from my other activities (the equi-spacing was a lucky coincidence).

I used a collection of free and paid for advertising and paid (micro-payments) on 16 and 30 January. My success measures were two fold

  1. Get reviews
  2. Get some real sales

This is the outcome:


Sales Rankings on Amazon in the Kindle store


Amazon provide some support to authors, but they don’t give numbers of downloads, they give change in rankings. The three orange points are the giveaways. My ranking improved 10 fold for each of those days. However, my ranking also improved on 1 September, to almost the same extent. Further, of those three days, the day with no paid advertising was as good as the day with two sets of bought adverts.

Does this data give any insight into my two success measures?

  1. No, but I have checked and there are no new reviews.
  2. Yes, it does and the free days did not convert immediately into real sales.

Another thing struck me as I was setting up the promotion. Lots of friends and family bought the book. I felt rude and ungrateful giving it away within a year.

So, would I do a book giveaway again? At this point in time, hand on heart, prevaricating to avoid answering, I think the answer is a resounding maybe.


4 thoughts on “Free book promotions – do they work

  1. This is fascinating. Firstly, your book IS good enough. I think there’s a lot of luck involved about the right person reading it, loving it and spreading the word to similar-minded people. This is where marketing aimed at the target reader is so important – as are endorsements. There are so many books out there that there’s a constant danger of them sinking into anonymity. Thanks for taking the time to analyse the effect of giveaways. I’m sure lots of indie authors will find it useful.


  2. If you only have a single book, giving it away accomplishes pretty much nothing.

    Three reasons to make your book free:

    1. As you mentioned in the post, make the first book in a series free. You get your profit from sell-through.
    2. Offer the book for free in exchange for sign up for your mailing list.
    3. Spiking your Amazon rank so that it gains enough visibility to sell after the promo ends. Note that Amazon’s algorithms dampen the impact of a single day spike, preferring a build up over several days instead. Thus picking continuous days is much, much, much better for increasing your rank than running your free days as separate blips.

    If you want to learn more about promotions, go to the kboards writers’ cafe. It’s a time sink reading through the posts there, but there’s a lot of really good information posted by people who know a lot more about marketing books than I do.


    1. Hi, great answer. I agree with the potential for item one. Am interested in item three. And have always wondered about the circular nature of item two. How do I contact people if they are not on my mailing list? Thinking through I expect this means that the author has achieved many followers on social media, but if that is the case why do you need to email them?


  3. Regarding Item 2:

    There are sites where you can offer your book in exchange for an email address. Other sites allow you to offer a raffle (the prize is typically a kindle or an Amazon gift card) and entry fee is an email address. These sites allow you to build a quite large email list.

    I did a cross author promo that got me over two thousand names. To be honest, though, I’m not very good at utilizing my list. Like everything else to do with self publishing, there’s a big learning curve to using them effectively. Overall, though, I’m very happy with the results. If nothing else, I got a few sales and, even better, I got a bunch of volunteers to read my ARC of a book I was launching. Ended up with 10 reviews by the launch day. Much easier than combing through Amazon reviewer profiles looking for people who listed their contact info.

    Note also that I have two lists. One is “organic,” consisting of people who have bought my book and liked it enough to want to sign up for my email list. This is the gold standard in lists because these people already like my writing and are likely to buy more of my books. This list is also very small, around one hundred twenty or so. The second list is from the cross promo.

    If you’re really good at targeted advertising, Facebook ads offering a book for free in return for a sign up can be highly effective. A number of authors have launched into the Amazon top 1000 with new pen names using that approach. (Unfortunately, I’m probably worse at targeting ads than I am at utilizing my list.)

    Again, though, I cannot stress enough how important the writers’ cafe is if you want to understand the business side of self publishing.


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