Sunday, December 16, 2012

Free Books: Give it away. Just give it away.

I have a Free Book Promotion coming up and I keep hearing the George Strait song ‘Give it Away’ playing in my ears. (Now you know where I get some of the inspirations for my blogs). It was time for me to do some research and talk to several successful authors on how to do this and what their experiences were in giving their books away.

Free books have been a custom in traditional paper books for as long as book reviews have been written. They came with the territory. They were sent directly to a person or an agent. The reader/customer rarely got their hands on a freebie unless they went to the Library.

The Internet has changed all that. The ebook has altered the way we read, distribute and market books. It has increased the competition between authors and retailers and publishers, all at the speed of light. Now one of the most important things for an author is to create an interest in his book with friends and followers online.

One of the methods of choice is a Free Book Promotion.

10 Easy Planning Steps

I’ll start off with ten steps we all should write down and follow if we are going to give our books away.

1.      Start several weeks in advance. First, select the dates and the period of time you want to run your promotion. There is some wisdom used here. The experts say do the promotion for 2 or 3 days in the middle of the week but not at the start of the month. Give yourself enough lead time so you can get everything together.
2.      Get your book and site information together in an easy place to work with. I use a Word document to manage mine.

That includes your book description, the ASIN and ISBN numbers, your cover, the Amazon buy link and any other link that relates to your book. This should include links to reviews and blogs.

3.      Made sure all your support group’s information is updated with the latest book information plus all your author profiles are up to date.
4.      Next, go to the Amazon promotion manager and schedule your Free Book Promotion.

             Review the Amazon Free Promotion Rules before you start. If this blog had more space, I would recommend this step before I published the book but that is a whole different topic.

             Basically, you need to be enrolled in the KDP Select program. You have 5 days to offer your book free every 3 months and you must have exclusive rights for the primary content of the book and Amazon has the exclusive rights to the sales. If you got all of the above, you’re good to go.

5.      I recommend you set up a day to day schedule (at least a 2 week schedule) and decide what you are going to offer free and when? Your book? Giveaway product? A Bonus book? Remember not all things can be done at once and you well run out of time if you’re not careful. 
6.      Start drafting your tweets and your Facebook communications. This is something you can start way ahead of time. Your are going to post them often. Variety is a good thing here. If you just keep sending the same tweet at your followers, they will start skipping over them like some of the other noise out there.

             Here is a sample of two that I created for my upcoming Free promotion. This will give some idea anyway of what I am talking about. Notice I have put the number of characters in brackets after the post. When I get down to tweet time, I know right where I’m at with Twitter.
Start 12/19. FREE Holiday Present. Stone encounters Murder/Espionage on on the Colorado - Black Mountain Secrets   #RT [139]
FREE 12/19 Black Mountain Secrets, a Jonathon Stone Mystery - Murder - Espionage - Intrigue on the Colorado River #RT [139]

7.      Highlight your book trailer if you have one? Black Mountain Secrets
8.      Create a blog or two, highlighting your book and time them to be released just before your promotion. Don’t forget the links back to everything.

             For example, I have three blogs prepared for my promotion. Make sure that other bloggers know the timing of your event as well as other sites that list your book. Remember they need enough lead time to react. That is where scheduling comes in to play.

9.      If you want to try something different, try Pinterest and their pins as a storyboard of your book, like you would a book trailer. Then point your readers to the board.

      I did that, using pictures I took during my research for my latest novel, Black Mountain Secrets. They were the stills from my book trailer. I can’t tell you how this will work out in practice but I know I need to link and tweet this heavily to make it work.

10.  Develop a follow up plan to re-contact your followers to reinforce when and where they can get your free book. This could be by Twitter, Facebook, email or another vehicle of your choice. The key is to keep communicating during and after your promotion.

Yogi says: It’s not over till it’s over. I’ll add to that: And it’s only over when you stop.

Setup Goals and Objectives

Of course, everybody’s primary goal is to sell more books. But there are a lot of ways to look at giving your book away. There are goals and objectives that you should consider.

To tackle this problem, I went to my HBS Author’s Spotlight crew. They are a group of award-winning, bestselling authors, some with very different points of view, who I have interviewed on my blog. They weighed in on their experiences with Free Books. (The links inserted in this post are to the Authors Spotlight interview. A must read.)

Develop a Strategy

One of the first things that was apparent. You need a strategy for giving your books away.

Award-winning  self-published Fantasy Writer, M.R. Mathias - @DahgMahn gave us his point of view.
I give away books all the time. It sometimes helps, sometimes not. Here is how it helps ME: I give away book one of a series, or a prequel type novella. If people like it they buy books two and three. The 23rd thru the 27th of Dec. I am giving away book one of "The Legend of Vanx Malic - Through the Wildwood" on Amazon.

Gaining Reviews

Some authors feel that if they give their books away, it will encourage the reader to write a review. It is much like an understood commitment.

Crime and Horror Author, Jade Varden - @JadeVarden had this experience.

I’ve had good results in that I managed to give books away, but I did not gain a ton of new reviews because of these giveaways... but I did improve communications with the book bloggers.

Looking for Exposure

This was the most popular reason for giving their books away.

Mystery & Thrillers Author, Dave Folsom - @davefolsombooks explained the promotion worked in practice but the outcome was hard to measure.

I have used both the Goodreads Giveaway program and Kindle’s Free Days.  Both resulted in a large number of responses and considerable exposure. How much this affected the sales that followed is difficult to measure… my main goal was exposure … Unfortunately, this is a slow uphill battle… the only minor obstacle was Amazon’s exclusivity requirement.

Mystery Writer and the host of HBS Author's Spotlight blog, James Moushon - @jimhbs is looking for exposure starting soon.
I am starting my first Promotion December 19 for 3 days through Amazon Select for my mystery novel, ‘Black Mountain Secrets’. My main goal is to get exposure for my fiction writing, get reviews and develop an audience. The Jonathon Stone Mystery series is a life long dream of mine that I want to share with Mystery readers.

YA Mystery & Thriller Author, Maree Ward-Russell - @mibbymw gained exposure but didn’t get the bump in sales she wanted.

My only experience has been with KDP direct …  My goal was to get myself ‘out there’ in terms of people getting to know me. At first it went well with 2000 downloads in the first 2 days. Problem is if you give that many copies away free, there is no incentive to buy and I found I had a slump in sales straight after.

Paranormal Action-Adventure and Short Stories Author, Troy Blackford - @TBlackford3 is just starting and he wants exposure.
I've managed to give away thousands of copies … My main goal was getting the work out there and hope people would like it and perhaps spread the word.

Best seller/rankings

Some go through the Free Book Promotion drill to get a higher ranking and in some cases gain the bestseller tag.

Award-winning novelist and speaker, Pamela Burford - @PamelaBurford got both with her promotion and a bonus with her backlist sales.

I made my fun foodie romance, ‘Too Darn Hot’, free beginning in September. My purpose was to rise in Kindle's best-seller lists and to prompt sales of my other books. This was my first freebie promo and it succeeded on both fronts...readers have liked the book enough to buy my other backlist romance, ‘Snowed’.

International Best Selling Author, Stacy Eaton - @StacySEaton had the increase in the rankings that she wanted and more. Plus she continued the marketing push after the freebes with added to success.

I put 'Whether I’ll Live or Die' up free for 2 days last month and gave away over 8,000 copies in 5 countries.

All in all, my experiences with listing my books for free on Amazon have been good. This last giveaway was the best and I loved seeing the numbers roll in. I climbed the rankings to the #21 spot on the Free Kindle Books list.

After I came off my free days, I continued to rank in some of the categories for almost two weeks.

My goal is always to get my story out there into the hands of readers...there were times I did not promote my free day as well as I should.

YA Romance Author, Emily Tippetts - @EMTippetts got exposure and sales but she realized there was more too it than just providing a free book.

I've given books away for free through Amazon's KDP Select program. The first time I did this was March 1 of this year with ‘Someone Else's Fairytale’, and the book shot up to 13th overall in one day. I then ended the giveaway and the book had a strong sales surge and climbed to 194th overall. The surge then subsided to about 20 copies a of the main drivers of a giveaway is people seeing the book high in the rankings...make your giveaway last longer….For about three weeks I had a good sales bump - nothing extreme. I never climbed past 8,000 on the site, but it was noticeable…. It isn't enough to make the book free, you have to get the word out to people who are looking.


Another reason for giving a book away is to create or improve your brand. Branding sells books in the future.

Award-winning speaker and a bestselling author, Devin C. Hughes - @DevinCHughes has a two edged sword here. One side is book sales and the other is promoting his speaking tour.

I give away quite a few books to a variety of folks who attend my events … I giveaway books to promote me and my brand.

Pre-Promotion plan

The days leading to your free promotion should be heavy in your planning schedule. This is the period leading to the start of the sale.

1.      Get your blog out there to your followers. I plan on having three blogs posted two days before my promotion begins, all with links back and forth plus to my Amazon buy page. You’ll see related posts on the eBook Author’s Corner, the HBS Author’s Spotlight and the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novels blogs.

2.      Start tweeting like mad, they say. I will dig into the tweets I created in my planning stage and start tweeting at regular intervals each day for the next two weeks. Notice I am not going to stop when the free promotion is over.

3.      List with other blogs – the more listings you get the better.

Now Let’s Give It Away

It’s time for your scheduled free days and to put your plan in motion. Contact your promotional sites and support groups. Timing is everything.

Amazon will do their thing but you need to keep working. It’s time to post on your Facebook pages, tweet the world, contact the groups that you belong to and get it rolling with your support groups.

Like Melissa Foster - @Melissa_Foster from the World Literary Cafe suggests: “Get authors in a cross promotion group and tweet like crazy (and thank them for it).”

The Give Away is done but we’re not

We need to keep marketing and as one of our contributors suggests: “Don’t lower your price. Keep up the momentum for a few days. If you’re free days ended before the weekend, keep up strong promotion efforts (through social networking) through the weekend.”

Results is the objective

Authors want results for their hard earned time and effort. Here are some opinions from our prized authors. Beware, sometimes the expectations exceed results.

Award-winning Mystery Novelist, Dani Amore - @authordaniamore explained her results this way.

It's been an interesting experience giving away books for free.  Probably in relation to the amount of time and effort I spent promoting the free books, my results have been varied...modest spikes in sales of other books, and maybe a few reviews...

Experienced Fiction and Non-fiction Author, Erik Christian - @SimplyAfterDark commented on how his strategy paid him in results.

I love the free promotion offered on KDP. I try and split up the 5 days free into two segments. It has helped sales considerably, as you can see from my rank of "Drunk" which was free just a few days ago.

Best Selling Author,  Patrick Hatt - @PatHatt24 echoed the same results.

My experience in giving them away for free has been it helps a ton, depending upon how it is done... I have  always gotten sales of my other books and sales of the free book when its free period was over.

Best-selling Mystery & Thrillers Author, Jake Needham - @jakeneedham had good results but sees a change he can’t explain.

I've done KDP Select give-aways of two of my titles and have had rather interesting results. In April, I offered free copies of ‘THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE’ through KDP Select and nearly 40,000 copies were downloaded…In the months immediately following, the total sales of of my titles jumped…In November, I tried KDP Select again with ‘KILLING PLATO’. In the three days that free copies have been available, just over 15,000 copies were downloaded worldwide.

Since both offerings were therefore more or less the same, I really have no idea if the offering of a title for free through KDP Select has become less effective as a promotional tool since last spring.

Writer of Fiction Novels, Non-Fiction and Children's Books plus the founder of the'Indie Chicks' writing group, Cheryl Shireman - @cherylshireman had good results but she questions the carryover to future sales.

Amazon Select can be a good way to attract short-term attention to your novel, but I am not sure what long-term effect giving away free copies will have on sales… [all I know is] a lot of readers were exposed.


Mystery Writer and the host of HBS Author's Spotlight blog, James Moushon @jimhbs ran head on into the exclusivity of the KDP program. 

The obstacle I had was with my first book, ‘Call Off The Dogs’. When it was published, I rushed out and placed with all the online retailers. That was before Select was the main method of choice for book promotion.

Now I tried to go back and make ‘the Dogs’ exclusive so I can promote it free through Amazon. Unfortuniately some of the minor retailers will not unlist the book and have priced it at zero. Amazon won’t let me enter the program until the issues can be resolved.

Some people just don’t give it away

Some of the authors questioned for this blog see free promotion differently. There are two ways to look at this you know. I just lost ‘x’ number of sales or did I gain potential readers for my next books. Fortuniately you can measure the free downloads and future sales are hard to determine.

Action-Adventure Thriller Author & popular publishing industry blogger, Joanna Penn - @thecreativepenn had mixed feelings: one for non-fiction, one for fiction. 

I have used KDP Select for my non-fiction book 'How to love your job or find a new one' … giving it away for free was always about getting more readers... for my fiction, I prefer a paid promo, as I end up making more money and also get more targeted buyers. I no longer have my fiction in KDP Select.

Historical Fiction Author, Ron Fritsch - @RonFritsch looked at his reading base and said no.

I've never offered them free to the general public. I don't think the persons who might read my books would be impressed with a giveaway.

Mystery & Thrillers Author, blogger and book editor, Amy Metz - @goosepimpleisms had a different problem. One that many authors are faced with.

I haven't been able to offer my eBook for free because my publisher controls the pricing.


Will there you have it. We have learned a lot from our contributors but the question still is: should I or not? I think goals, schedules and planning can’t hurt and being prepared is a must. Also, working the Internet for all its worth is a required and you should keep selling after the promotion. It is better than just throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks. Also, we learned that free books are not for everyone.

George Strait’s song keeps singing in the background. Don’t get caught singing his last line: “I can’t even give it away”. Listen to George here, if you wish


What has been your experience with Free Book Promotions?
Should we add anything to the planning process?
Did we miss a goal or objective along the way?

HBS Author's Spotlight Contributors

The author comments are excerpts from a survey conducted by the HBS Author's Spotlight. You can view the author’s complete answers on the following blog: Free eBooks – HBS Author’s Spotlight Survey.

There question was: What has been your experience in giving your books away free? Have you been involved in other types of giveaways and how did that work out? What was your main goal in doing this? Did you run into any obstacles?

Follow me:

Follow Me on Twitter: @jimhbs
Or EMAIL at:
View my website: James Moushon – Mystery Writer
Or visit my blog: The eBook Author Corner
Take a look at my Author’s blog: HBS Author’s Spotlight

Check out the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novels:
Call Off The Dogs

Or newly released: Free starting 12/19/12 for 3 days
Black Mountain Secrets


  1. James, once again you seem to be providing valuable technical information. I use the word "seem" only because, as you note above, I've never done a giveaway. If I did try a giveaway on Amazon, I might run into the same problem you have with your first novel, "Call Off the Dogs." My books are for sale so many places, and it would be difficult to take them down now. In any event, I hope your giveaway for your second novel, "Black Mountain Secrets," is a huge success. Please keep us informed. Who knows? Maybe I'll change my mind!

  2. Thanks Ron your comment and contributing to the blog. I think your comment on the blog makes a lot of sense. If you have target audience, you could kill a lot of sales with a freebie. I think we should try everything at least once. I hope I don’t have to sing along with George Strait.

  3. Thanks James Moushon for your nice posting. I Think that this post is about free books.
    It helps to reads with another person to communication.