Why should I give my book away for free when I’m trying to sell it?
This is a question authors often ask when they consider Kindle Select’s proposal for free Kindle books. With this program an author is allowed to offer her Kindle book for free on five different days during each quarter she’s enrolled in the program. But every person who gets it for free is another person who’s not going to pay for it. Right? It’s hard enough to sell your books without giving away hundreds at a time. Why do this?
Many authors say the free kindle book promotion helps them sell more books because of these three things.
- It helps improves their sales ranking with Amazon.
- It helps readers find out about them by downloading their free book. If readers like their writing they may buy their other books.
- Readers who like their book may write Amazon reviews, and good Amazon reviews are worth gold to an author.
Other authors are skeptical. This is their viewpoint.
- Readers often hoard free e-books, downloading many books they never read.
- Authors who offer their books for free ruin the market for authors who are trying to sell their books.
Which is true? Last week I tried my own experiment. I offered our Bible study book, I Survived!, as a free Kindle book for five days. This is what I learned.
Did It Improve My Sales Ranking?
The first thing you need to understand about sales ranking is that, to a large extent, these are just wildly fluctuating numbers. Our book is new and we’ve sold most of our copies so far in “table sales,” off a table at the back of the room or directly to real people. These books don’t count for Amazon’s sales rank so we started with a very low sales rank. Also remember that these numbers reflect our Kindle sales, not our paperback sales.
We offered our Kindle book for free from Monday to Friday. The Saturday before the promotion the paid Kindle version had a sales rank of 467,767. The Saturday after the promotion it was 740,847. Now that looks like a dismal failure. The next day, however, that had changed to 176,354. Even though the numbers fluctuate wildly, I have to believe this is some improvement.
Also consider this: During that five-day free period, 2866 people downloaded our book. The sales rank did fluctuate during the week, but at one point our book ranked 113 of all free Kindle books, nearly in the top 100. It became #1 in free Kindle books in Christian Education category and #2 in the Bible category.
Amazon sales ranking is hard to understand, but I have to believe that somehow 2866 free downloads has to help its sales ranking, even as a paid Kindle book.
Did It Influence Readers to Buy My Other Books?
I would guess that many authors find this part of the equation disappointing. I read many free Kindle fiction books, but most of those books fit into the OK category. It takes an exceptional book to make me want to buy other books by the author.
I’m hoping, however, that our Bible study book will be different from the average fiction book. Why? Our I Survived! Bible study book has a companion book.
For those of you who might not know, the companion book is the true story of Mary Weaver, Edges of Truth. Mary was providing childcare to an 11-month-old baby when the baby quit breathing. Mary called 9-1-1 and administered CPR, but within a day the baby died. In spite of severe brain injuries from 7 to 10 days before death, some medical experts believed Mary had to have shaken and slammed the baby during the last 42 minutes they were together. Eventually this godly woman was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Edges of Truth is the story of Mary and her lawyer, Steve Brennecke who fought to prove her innocence. My husband and I wrote I Survived! to answer spiritual questions raised by Mary’s true story. Why does God allow disasters and how can we survive them?
Many people buy I Survived! by itself. It showcases 5 Bible characters who survived disaster, so anyone can profit from the study. But each chapter does give illustrations from Mary Weaver’s story. If that piques their curiosity enough, readers of the free Kindle book may order the Kindle or paperback of Edges of Truth. So the free Bible study book becomes free advertising for the true story.
Readers who enjoy I Survived! may also order the paperback Bible study book. Or perhaps they’ll decide to do a group Bible study and others will order the book.
So I believe the free Kindle book will help us sell other books.
On the other hand, of the 2866 readers who downloaded our book for free, many of those readers don’t know who I am at all. They wouldn’t have downloaded the book if they had to pay for it. Surely some of those readers will never read it, but some will. God can use this study in their lives. As a writer I need to make enough money to pay for the expenses of publication. Beyond that, it’s reasonable to expect to make a little money on the two books that took 2 ½ years to write. But serving God is more important than making money. If offering this for free helps people in a spiritual way, people who wouldn’t have otherwise read the book, I won’t argue with that.
Plus, it’s fun to be able to give my friends something for free. Many of them buy my books, bless them, and I don’t want to become a salesman who views everyone as a potential customer. I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to buy my books. So it’s nice to be able to give freely from time to time to everyone who knows me.
Did It Encourage Anyone to Post an Amazon Review of My Book?
Well, not yet. I believe the most effective use of I Survived! is to study it a portion a day for 10 weeks. So far this book has no reviews and it would be great to have some positive, yet honest, reviews on Amazon. You might be one of my reviewers!
When I find a book I really like I always try to post an Amazon review. If I have received it for free, this is a way of giving back and thanking the author. On the other hand, if there’s something I really don’t like about the book, I don’t review it. I just don’t want to make the author’s chance of selling that much harder. I imagine other readers feel the same way, which is probably why most book reviews on Amazon have 4 or 5 stars.
So, am I glad I offered my book as a free Kindle book for 5 days? Absolutely. I learned a lot. Many readers downloaded it who would not have bought my book otherwise. (Thanks to Money Saving Mom who offered my free ebook at the top of her list on Tuesday, thereby bringing it to the notice of 500,000 followers.) And I believe it will help me to sell paperback and Kindle editions of both this book and its companion.
Will offering your book free on Kindle help you sell more books? I can’t tell you that, but it’s certainly worth trying. It’s hard to find any method that really guarantees sales. You have to try it for yourself to see what happens. But I felt this was a good method for me to try and I would do it again. I hope you will find something that works for you.
[Image courtesy of Anna Subbotina/Deposit Photos.]