How to Make Your Book Free

I was asked by a blog reader a few weeks about how I made my independently published book free (Champagne and Lemon Drops). As in, free all the time. I replied to her, but got to thinking that this might be something others are wondering about–whether traditionally or independently published. (Even traditionals are using free books, samples, novellas, short stories tied in to their novels, etc., to help build a reader base these days.) So here is the scoop along with some sprinkles.

Why Do You Want Your eBook to Be Free

The power of free is greater than the power of $.99. So enough about 99 cents. Okay, okay… there are some variations between genres–ALWAYS check and see what is happening in your genre. A 99 cents novel in the literary fiction genre will find itself blacklisted because the assumption will be that it is no good. However in the YA world that 99 cent novel might get gobbled up.

Take away: Always do your homework. And that means legwork. If you are reading this blog post later than May 2014, sorry, but a lot of this will have changed to the point where this post could be useless in terms of the ‘how to go free’ aspect. Heck, these tips and suggestions and reasonings might be completely unvalid by the end of this month! We are in the midst of a revolution. A REVOLUTION my friends. What we are doing today is completely different than authors were doing ten years and ago and ten years into the future will be completely unrecognizable! (Well… maybe.) Back on track… legwork. That means read CURRENT blog posts on this topic. It also means going to the big vendors for your genre and seeing what the big sellers are doing. Is their book 99 cents? Is it $5.99? How did they get there? What path should you take? etc., etc. Don’t take someone’s old advice meant for 2011 and apply it today. Stay current. (Did I scare you? Sorry.)

Okay, back to why you might want your book to be free:

  • Good way to meet readers. Yes, sometimes there are people who only read free books and they won’t go on to buy your paid book. Get over it. These people have mouths–meaning they can tell others who DO buy books that they loved your book. That’s pretty cheap advertising. (And word of mouth is king in advertising. If you can get people talking about your book–gold!)
  • Great for the beginning of a series. You will often see the first book in an independently published series as free as it gets readers hooked into the stories, setting, characters, etc.
  • Risk free way for readers to try a new author, because face it, if you are an indie, you aren’t front and center in a bookstore.
  • Good for visibility. Free gets around. ;)
  • Cheap marketing. Yes, you put time and effort into this (and editing and cover art) but in the grand scheme of things it is pretty good.
  • Gets your name out there.
  • Gives you brand recognition.
  • There is a lot of advertising out there that is free for free ebooks. And yes, everyone was scared that with Amazon’s changes to their affiliate program that there would be fewer websites advertising free books, but there are still a TON of ways to get your book out there. Tons.
  • Mailing list! Your free book is a way to connect with readers. Start a mailing list. That’s a newsletter. And yes, if you wrote a book you DO have things to say in a newsletter. Heck, I had my readers name Mandy’s cat in the upcoming Blueberry Springs novel, Whiskey and Gumdrops! It was fun and I stayed connected with my readers and gave them something special–a way to be a part of the creation of my book. Win-win! How did I get these fine folks? I mentioned my mailing list at the back of my FREE book. (I mention it elsewhere too.) People sign up and then I can stay in touch and tell them about future books as well as other fun stuff.
  • There are free bestseller lists on Amazon. Not only is it good for the self-esteem to get on these lists, but it lends visibility to your OTHER books. Yes, to your other books.

Visibility in action. Keywords, free, downloads, categories, etc. has brought Champagne and Lemon Drops to the top of the search results for “contemporary fiction.” Free can equal more downloads which can improve your sales rank. (Free are not weighted as heavily in Amazon’s sales rank algorithm as a paid sale, but sometimes free really ‘pays.’)


What is Perma Free and What is KDP Select?

When you see books listed as free on Amazon it has happened in one of two ways.

Either it is free through their publisher program KDP Select where the author signs up to allow Amazon a 90 day period of exclusivity. In other words, their book will ONLY be available on Amazon and its sites for three months. Within that 90 days the author can set their book to be listed as free for 5 days. (That can be broken up–you don’t have to use them all at once.) This used to really benefit authors as there would be a significant sales bounce after free days, meaning the number of downloads on their free day would boost their rank–and thus their visibility–and increase their sales for quite a few days afterwards. However, there have been changes to the system and many authors are reporting that the sales bounce is negligible and not worth going exclusive. This likely varies by genre so again, do your legwork and talk to authors in your genre, stalk their books and watch their rank, etc.

Perma Free, on the other hand, is free all the time, everywhere. For as long as you like. That easy. (Not really. There are glitches, etc.) To go free you basically game the system in a few places. For example, to list a book as free on Barnes and Noble you have to use Smashwords (possibly others–I used SW though) as your distributor (they are seen as a ‘publisher’ through B&N whereas doing it yourself… not so much). Everywhere else you can list your book as free. Except Amazon. So publish your book everywhere as free. Then once you have those links to your free book on the big vendors, go to Amazon and find your book’s page. Scroll down below your rank and look for ‘lower price.’ Click.

Click “Tell us about a lower price”

Fill in this box:

Fill in. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Use the ‘big’ vendor links to your free book as well as some smaller ones. Big ones include Kobo, B&N, iTunes. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. (Report frequently! Like a couple times a day!) Usually it takes about ten days for Amazon to price match although sometimes it takes longer and sometimes less time. You can do this for other Amazon sites as well–like .ca, etc.

Now… if you have read Amazon’s terms of service (which I highly recommend. It is a business contract after all and you need to know what you are agreeing to. For example, a promo on another site could end up with your book being free on Amazon without your consent. It’s always nice to know that–because in the ToS you DID give consent.) you will find that they mention listing your book as free. It sounds like that is a no-no. However, it also says that they have the right to price match, etc., etc. Author David Gaughran, in his book Let’s Get Visible, mentions that he talked to Amazon about this contradiction and all is well. So for now, you are okay doing this. For now. Remember–we’re in a revolution and things constantly change! :D

P.S. You might find your perma free book bumps back to paid every once in awhile. That’s okay. It happens. Just go back and report it again–usually within 48 hours it will be back to free.

P.P.S. You may find you still get ‘sales’ for your book even though it is free. Basically, that is someone from out of territory finding your book and it not being free for them because of where they live and they just went ahead and bought it! WOOT! I’ve made about a hundred bucks on my free book. Go figure, eh? A nice little perk that helps pay for the cover art, and some of the editing.

In the end…

Popularity lists on Amazon (I’m using Amazon a lot as they tend to sell the most books–tend to!) are based on a 30 day average. So a short sales bump due to a temporary price lowering may not be as effective as a long-term bump in terms of visibility on those lists. In other words, a permanent book continues to get more downloads over a longer period of time which results in greater visibility. And more downloads. And more readers. And more reviews.

In the end, a lot of it is luck. And timing. And a cover that works for the reader. And… you get the point. But using free might help you gain precious visibility and traction for a new series.

Good luck my friends! I hope this post was helpful.

If you have any questions, suggestions, tips, etc., feel free to mention them in the comment area. Thanks for reading.

*Tweet this post and help another writer make their book go free.*

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2 comments on “How to Make Your Book Free
  1. farrelljulie says:

    Thank you for this absolutely fantastic post – so helpful! :)

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  1. How to Succeed as an Indie Author – Interview with Jean Oram | You are the Sunshine of your Life says:

    […] Lemon Drops is free almost constantly on Amazon, and you write about how to make this happen here Why did you decide to make Champagne and Lemon Drops free, given that it’s currently your only […]

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