Why Giving Away Thousands Of Free Books Is A Good Thing

While on the surface the following may seem to be a KDP Select success story, it’s actually something a little more important than that: a testament to the power of determination, and proof that even the most niche of books can be a self-publishing success story, a book that every agent in the UK said there was no market for.

I first met Tony James Slater at a conference almost exactly two years ago. Given that it was quite a, cough, liquid affair, neither of us remember much about the encounter, other than we were both in a similar position: we had a finished book with which were desperately trying (and failing) to elicit interest.

And we were both getting knocked back for the same reason: the “experts” said there was no market for it. I was told that nobody wanted to read a historical novel set in South America, and Tony was universally informed that his foul-mouthed memoir of a time spent working in an Ecuadorean animal refuge could only have very limited appeal, especially considering he was an unknown quantity.

Okay, so Tony definitely wins the “niche” game. But Tony’s (eventual) success proves that even  the most narrowly defined niche is going to be well populated in a world with millions and millions of e-reader owners, most of whom can be reached through one retailer.

The challenge (as ever) was finding those readers. And while KDP Select was the key to him finally getting enough eyeballs on his work for his sales to take off, I’m convinced Tony would have got there one way or another, for one important reason: he was never, ever going to give up. If Tony had been that guy in 127 Hours, he would have got his head trapped instead of his arm, and still have managed to hack it off, slide out from under that rock, sew it back on, and crawl to safety.

Tony was willing to try a bit of everything, including dressing his poor mother up in a bear suit, his sister in a giant pair of cardboard underpants, and forcing them both to hand out fliers in front of Waterstones. For his e-book.

While success like this always involves a strike of lightning, Tony climbed to the top of a steeple on a stormy night, then covered himself in tinfoil.

But that’s enough from me. Here’s Tony:

Why Giving Away Thousands Of Free Books Is A Good Thing

For anyone that didn’t get the memo, my crazy travel comedy That Bear Ate My Pants! went free last week, as part of an Amazon KDP Select promotion.

When Amazon first announced KDP Select in December, I came out strongly against it. How dare they try to dictate blah, blah, exclusivity, blah – yeah, you’ve heard all that already. I also had a sneakier reason though; cold hard cash! Specifically the piles of it I would make selling on other platforms whilst every Indie author worth their salt had sold their souls to Amazon.

I’d figured out I could publish direct with Kobo, who looked set to claim a decent chunk of the UK market – the Kobo device had just started being stocked in WH Smiths and ASDA, two of UK’s omnipresent store chains. They were bound to sell like crazy over Christmas – much like the Kindle, only to folk who did their shopping in ‘real’ shops instead of online. This is a BIG chunk of the population in England, where we still make widespread use of donkey-powered treadmills to heat our homes.

With an ISBN in hand, all I needed was a slight re-formatting of my book, which I did, and a scanned copy of my signature… which I never got around to doing. Why? It was the easiest stage of the process by far, but… I was reluctant.

By this point I was hearing good things about Select, about the advantages it had given people, about free promotions driving sales ranks through the roof. Christmas came and went as I told myself I’d get around to dealing with Kobo as soon as I’d… . Well, I did emigrate to Australia around this time (as they are kinder to donkeys there, on account of not needing to heat their homes).

I realized what was happening; I wasn’t deciding. I was sitting on the fence, which is never a good idea because fence posts have pointy tops and my ass is soft and squishy. I was being indecisive, because there was fame and fortune at stake, and just possibly the ability to pay my rent next month.

Then I read David’s blog, as I generally do, and he was featuring stories on people who HAD done well out of Select. I’d read some before but they all seemed halfway to being superstars already, with friends in high places and mailing lists for gawd’s sake.  Somehow, reading it here made it seem more plausible. It was exciting to realise there were people like me, selling two dozen copies a month at best, that had hitched their wagon to the Select train and been carried off to mega-stardom! Or at least, to selling three dozen copies a month.

So I though ‘bollocks to it,’ and pulled my finger out (of where, I shan’t be saying) – and clicked the ‘enrol’ button on my Kindle Dashboard. Just like that, it was done. (But because I’m me I went back and unclicked it, then panicked and re-clicked it, then stomped around stressing for an hour when it wouldn’t re-click and finally tried it again and it worked. Sometimes I wonder how I get through the day.)

I figured since I’d thrown my dice I might as well bet the farm, so I scheduled two of my free days directly after Valentines Day (despite being told that anyone who bought their significant other a Kindle as a Valentines gift was well on the way to becoming single again).

I set about finding and contacting all the places that feature free books, making a list as I went (and mentioning the list frequently, in the hope it would make the owners of these sites more likely to feature me.) For anyone interested, most of that list is on my blog here.

I got in touch with all the biggies (POI, KND, ENT, etc.), several of whom I’d had adverts with in the past, so I could email them directly. Then I found smaller sites and newsletters, and newer Facebook groups, and contacted them. It took a while as I hate writing ‘form’ letters. I’m sure people can see through them straight away, so I typed every email and contact form individually, despite saying mostly the same thing in all of them. I set up a Facebook Event and invited all my friends, then wrote a message to them all asking them to invite all of theirs! I can only persuade myself to be this cheeky when I’m giving something away for free.

I also prepared sample Tweets to send, for me and for any helpers I acquired, a blog post telling followers how to help out, a couple of guest posts and joined a few Re-Tweet schemes (the ones at World Literary Café and the Book Junkies are great). During this time I wrote well over a hundred emails – I would say I spent up to eighteen hours a day doing this, for the three days before the promotion was due to begin.

And then it all kicked off, and I didn’t sleep for quite some time.

Due in no small part to the freebie newsletters I was featured on, ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ rolled up the charts over the course of the first free day. Sometime that night I cracked the Top 100 in the US; by next morning I was #9 overall on Amazon.com’s free list. I spent a whole day at #1 overall on Amazon.co.uk, but the download figures reflected how much easier this was to achieve than the US result.

In total there were 22,701 copies downloaded. Sixteen thousand of these were from the US, whereas a measly 6,000 downloads were enough to hog the top spot in the UK. It was an amazing result, catapulting my book to centre stage and achieving a visibility I had only dreamed of.

Tweets were flying around like mad, the book was being featured and listed by all kinds of aggregators and I had my first new review before the second day had ended. Since then they have been rolling in, three of four a day scattered between the two sites, each one giving me cause to leap around the bedroom shouting “YEESSS, get IN!” while my wife looks on in confusion. And yes, I am still struggling to explain to her how giving away twenty-two thousand books is a good thing…

The aftermath was terrifying. I’d heard on the Kindle Forums how books tended to plummet once they came off a free promotion, only rising slowly back to their former level. I was determined not to worry about it, but it brought a tightness to my chest when That Bear first showed up with a ranking over 100,000.

Then it began to climb, and contrary to all I’d been told it took less than a day to reach – then exceed – my pre-promo ranking of 30k. It shot up, gaining momentum, still being tweeted about and getting picked up by newsletters that thought it was still free. By that evening I broke into the Top 100 paid on Amazon.co.uk and made 327 in the States. I’ve slipped a bit since, but not too much – which presumably means someone is still buying it  :0)

Amazon is currently having a few issues with the reporting of royalties, and at any rate I won’t know the full story until the end of the week, but in the first few days after the promo ended I seem to have sold almost 800 books and made around £1,000.

Which co-incidentally is almost exactly the amount of money it’s cost me to repair my car after the wife had a little prang in it yesterday. This is an example of what I call ‘Karma with a C’ – the universal Law that, no matter how much money you come into, there will always be a car bill of equal or greater value on the horizon…

Easy come, easy go  :0)

If I had to, I would do it all over again. Hell, I’d love to do it all again! It was like the best theme-park ride I can imagine. And it was free. I gained readers, reviews, ranking and came very close to making some money – but then, we all know it: Karma, however you spell it, is a bitch.

Epilogue: It’s funny how, when I was ranked around 30,000 I was constantly worried about slipping below this; now my book has stabilised around the 150 mark in the UK and the 1,000 in the US, I’m even more scared of it dropping! At this level, if it holds steady, I’ll be making a minimum wage – small, but liveable. That in itself is hard to believe – until the cheques arrive anyway – but it hasn’t given me the confidence to leave it alone.

I’m going to work harder at expanding my online presence to include Goodreads, MobileRead Forums, LibraryThing, Pintrest and LinkedIn. I’ve even started a mailing list! (It has six names on it.) I’m looking out for new sponsorship opportunities and sending out more review copies than ever. If anything it’s made me see that the potential to sell well is out there – I just have to work harder for it, use every tool available, and pull out all the stops if I want to cling on this close to the top. And then I’m going to buy some climbing shoes and head back up there…

A screenshot of me in the Amazon.com Top Ten Paid is the new Everest Summit photo! Watch this space  :0)

* * *

If you want to read more of Tony’s adventures, his blog is here, his website is here, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

I’ve read Tony’s book, and it’s bloody hilarious – the funniest thing I’ve read in a very long time. If you have any interest in books set in exotic locations, if you want to laugh more than you have done in ages, if you want to hear Tony curse like a sailor as he subjects himself to all manner of self-harm, then do yourself a favor and pick up That Bear Ate My Pants for $2.99 on Amazon US or £2.68 on Amazon UK.

You might think I’m biased, Tony’s a friend after all. But you don’t have to take my word for it. He has 23 five star reviews in the US, and 21 more in the UK.

Enjoy your weekend!

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

106 Replies to “Why Giving Away Thousands Of Free Books Is A Good Thing”

  1. Hi David and Tony. I can see I’m a little late to this discussion, but I just wanted to say thank you for this great post. I’ve been searching the web for something like this today. Amazon set my first book to free this past Wednesday (for price match reasons–I haven’t enrolled in KDP Select) and over 20,000 copies have been downloaded since then. The book has made it to #1 in both historical fiction and literary fiction and it’s now #15 overall. Isn’t it amazing what being free on Amazon can do for sales? And I’m with you, Tony. Giving away 20,000 copies of a book is a good thing. This experience certainly makes me reconsider KDP Select for my future books. Keep up the great work, gentlemen.

  2. Dave,
    After a bit of research, I decided to go with Select for my new nonfiction e-book. It’s uncharted territory for most nonfiction (epecially techie stuff), so I thought–what have I got to lose?

    I’ll let you know how it goes.

    1. Good luck with it James. Let us know how you get on. Certainly, if you are going to enroll in Select, the best time (IMO) is on release, then you can upload elsewhere after.

      1. Yeah, once you’ve used up your first bunch of free days I don’t think there’s much to be gained from keeping flogging the same dead horse. Unless you come up with a great tactic (or priceless contact) for spreading the word, each free day will attract less downloads and less buzz, to the point where I don’t think you’d gain much by signing up for another period beyond the initial 3 months. Then, when Amazon is tapped out, you can go out and sow your wild oats, so to speak :0)

  3. WOW!! That sounds like a boatload of work! Not sure I have that kind of determination and staying power. Reminds me of a documentary I watched only yesterday “Running the Sahara.” Endurance is key! Congratulations!

    1. Ha! Well it wasn’t quite a desert marathon! It was a lot of work though. I just couldn’t allow myself to take the risk – of firing my hard-won promotional bullet (the free post) and effectively wasting it by not having done enough groundwork. I would say I probably did more than was necessary – a lot of what I did had very little effect, especially when compared with the explosion of downloads once it climbed the charts a little. I was posting on the Walls of tiny Facebook groups with a few hundred members, when twenty copies a minute were being downloaded just by people finding it through its position in the free charts, and through the POI and ENT type newsletters. I know people who have had similar success as me with a lot less work – but I knew I’d have to work extra hard, as my book isn’t really in a popular genre. If I’d had a really good vampire romance that I was peddling, I probably could have just sat back, drank my wine and watched the downloads roll in! :0)

      1. Hi Tony,
        Authors can also submit their books to Freebooksy: http://www.freebooksy.com
        We feature 2-3 free books per day, so each featured book gets a lot of attention. Another option to add to your roster, if you will!

  4. Totally Inspiring! David, you wrote a few words that sum it all up, for the moment: “A world with millions and millions of e-reader owners, most of whom can be reached through one retailer.” Perfect!

    James, your hard work is the Inspiration part!

    The big fear among writers is that Amazon will become such a powerful monopoly that they’ll be able to abuse their power. Well, ask Woolworth’s 5 & 10, or Sears & Roebuck, about being the invincible monopoly. Ask Microsoft! IMO, Amazon is going to have to fight like hell to retain anything like its present market share. The one advantage they have now is that most of those millions of e-readers are Kindles, but those numbers are going to change very quickly. Maybe the next version of the iPad will create as much buzz as the Kindle Fire did. Soon, Kindle will be just one device (and a functionally limited one, at that) in a competitive market of iPads and many other tablets, all capable of reading eBooks.

    Given Apple’s success with iTunes, I wouldn’t bet against Apple replacing Amazon as the dominant book marketer. More likely, the world will be as full of e-reading devices as it is of different cell phones, and like cell phones, they’ll all work about the same.

    One wild guess about the future: Someday, a specialized search engine as smart as Google will come along allowing readers to access and buy or borrow every eBook in the world directly through each author’s own Website, which would make Amazon and other online eBook retailers as obsolete as bricks and mortar stores. And authors would rule the world.

    1. And when we rule the world, I get to live in a hand-shaped mansion :0)
      I think Amazon will retain a lot of its dominance because it has built up such a fantastic reputation as more than just a book seller – I get all sorts of things there. But currently no other ebook store features the ease of use, ‘cleanness’, variety etc. of Amazon. All the big name bestsellers, right down to the tiniest indie book, in one place – prices for every budget, seamless wireless delivery to your device… it’s all just so good. That’s why people like to use it, and why it’s still the biggest. Amazon will face growing competition I’m sure – after all it’s still an emerging market – but I personally don’t think they’ll ced their dominance. Not for a long time anyway!

  5. Good luck Jonas! I grabbed a free copy of The Wake Up Call. You’re doing well on both sides of the Atlantic – approaching 2,500 in the US and at no.149 in the UK!!! GREAT!
    I’m glad you went down this route and I really hope it works for you – you could be the next example of the KDP success story on here!
    The indie community helping each other, it’s just fantastic. It’s helped me learn everything, from no clue about e-publishing to published and marketing like a pro! An awful lot of that learning happened right here on David’s blog actually, and in his ‘Let’s Get Digital’ book. There are Facebook groups (Indie Writers Unite is a particularly good one) where ‘serious’ indies get together and compare notes, critique book covers, share news and tips etc – it’s such a good vibe! Because we’re not really in competition (although I love to joke about it) – readers don’t have to choose between my book and yours, if they read one and like it they might read the next one next week! Cross promotion actually helps us, because if I tell someone about your book and they love it, they’ll respect my recommendations and be grateful to me – they might even check out my book , figuring a person who suggested a book they liked might write similar stuff himself… and vice-versa. So we’re really all working together, to promote all our books, to everyone – and there’s more than enough readers to go around!

  6. Great article, this helped me take the plunge into joining KDP Select and today I’m having my first novel The Wake-Up Call for free goo.gl/t4JkW

    We will see what happens, but I think 3 months is a decent evaluation period for KDP.

    I must add that it’s very nice to see that indie authors have become such a nice and supportive community. It’s really more about helping each other than competition and that is very rare these days!

  7. Oh, wow, such an exciting blog post! It’s wonderful to hear about your huge success with KDP Select, Tony! Your enthusiasm really shines through. I was one of the authors who David so graciously allowed to publish a blog post here in January about my experiences with KDP Select. Like you, I almost didn’t sign up with KDP Select because I was really worried about the exclusivity. But, with each of my free promotions, I’ve also felt as you describe the experience: “It was like the best theme-park ride I can imagine.” I haven’t had time to promote nearly as much as you did before your free promotions (I saved a link to your blog post, in order to check out where you promoted for when I eventually have more time)…but I’ve still had tremendous success with each of my KDP Select free promotions and afterwards have sold more copies of my books in one month than I used to sell in an entire year. And, in addition to that, my royalties were actually doubled by Amazon last month because of the number of times my books were borrowed through Amazon Prime!

    Here are some of my recent numbers. The past two days, I ran KDP Select free promotions on all three books in my Trilogy of THE FISHERMAN’S SON. With almost no promotion, I still had over 5,800 copies of the books downloaded on Amazon.com, plus additional books downloaded on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr and Amazon.es. All three books were among the Top 12 best-sellers on Amazon.com’s list of free Kindle Fantasy titles, and THE FISHERMAN’S SON made the Top 100 list of all best-selling free Kindle books on Amazon.com. When the free promotions ended today, THE FISHERMAN’S SON continued to sell and the number of copies borrowed through KDP Select more than doubled. Definitely feels like an awesome theme-park ride! 🙂

    1. It’s the best feeling in the world, eh, seeing it rise up the charts like that! Those are some great numbers with no promotion – I was tempted to take that route, but was afraid to waste what I thought of as my one shot with Select – I only have one book, and once it’s been free once, I can’t imagine it’ll get as many takers the second time. So I figured it’d be worth the effort to try to max it out. Worked! I think after a certain point, it achieves such visibility that it takes off on it’s own. If I’d got to 200 on the free list I might have stayed there, but breaking the Top 100 is a pivitol moment – that’s what gave it the visibility to break the top ten! Well, I think – I’m not too sure what was going on, but I do think my plan – to put everything into the one promo and try to shove it as far up the charts as possible – worked. And it’s two weeks later, and I’m still doing pretty well – just above 1,800 in the us and 180 in the UK! SO excited! I had to stop watching the numbers though, it was distracting me from doing anything else!
      Congrats on your success, we’re going to convince a fair few people to give Select a go, I reckon! More competition of course… :0)

  8. David and Tony – thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

    As an author who’s in jeopardy of suffering from paralysis by analysis on this eBook lark, this post and discussion are extremely helpful to me and others alike.


    Ps. Tony, I may well take you up on that email offer! 🙂

  9. Karma…a fickle bitch, that one. But all signs from the Magic 8-Ball of Life indicate you’ll be back in her good graces is no time, pal – long-term bestsellerdom is inevitable! Great post – I’m knee-deep in THAT BEAR and loving every word. Review and more push coming soon.

  10. And thanks so much to David for having me here on his blog. I hope the ideas and figures were of interest! Anyone who’d like to ask me any further questions, please do get in touch: I’m at falconts1@aol.com and I love to help out where I can!
    Thanks everyone for your comments. I’ve enjoyed reading and responding to them, and I’ll bob back every now and then to see if there are any more.
    Thanks again folks!
    Indie writers rule!

  11. If your book is half as entertaining as your blog post, it must really rock.

    All good points about the Select-coaster. I too dithered until late January. Then put book two of my series up, had a great freebie run, so much fun that I’m doing it again (last free day is today).

    The only downside is my click-to-refresh finger is getting a blister.

    1. Ha! That blister… it will soon become the badge of honour amongst Select authors! I tried to stop myself checking too often, as it does get addictive and I was so busy, but… yeah, I did a bit of peeking :0)
      I also had a few people who kept telling me how I was doing, which was motivating without getting in the way of everything else I was doing. Perfect! And of course, leads to less of a blister :0)

  12. I signed one of my books up for Kindle Select last week. It was an easy decision. Unlike my other novel, it rarely sold outside of Amazon. I did two free promotional days on Thursday and Friday and got 4500 free downloads (on the free charts went up to 97 Overall, 3 in Fantasy, 2 in Children’s Fantasy). Today, Saturday, is the first day back and so far only a small handful of sales (fingers crossed).

    No regrets if the sales don’t pick up. The book wasn’t getting as much attention and now there’s a good chance for more reviews, readers to later come back for more books (could be days, weeks or months later). It’s fantastic exposure and well worth a 90-day tradeoff.

    At this point I plan on doing this for my other novel next month and to debut each of the four novels I plan on putting out later this year. Possibly a couple of short stories as well.

    1. There’s a good chance sales will pick up (they always start slow, especially as people still thinking it’s free will find the book, and might not buy when they notice it’s back to full price). I hear from most people though, that once the free promo is over their sales stabilise at a higher level than before, and the rank will also settle at a higher level. For a promo that costs you nothing to run, you can’t say much fairer than that! And there’s always the chance that it will take off big time…

      1. You certainly can’t beat the value of a free promo! My sales started picking up about 18 hours after the free period ended. Nothing stellar, yet, but growing still. And for a book that had hit a major sales slump, I think it’s fantastic.

  13. David…I’ve been following you on Twitter for some time. But this is my first time on your site (for which I’ve now registered). I’ve got a couple of comments.
    1. I was shocked when you personally replied to an earlier comment I made here, about your “give-away” posting. You must still be working 18 hours a day.
    2. Since I’m a newbie (I posted my first short story on KDP a couple of days ago), I studied long and hard about how to format my MS Word manuscript for the Kindle. My Bible was Kate Harper’s “How to Publish and Sell Your Article on the Kindle.”
    3. The most important thing (among many) I learned from Kate is how to get an accurate preview of how my manuscript will appear on the Kindle screen. After an author is fully registered on KDP, just email an attachment of your manuscript to this address: (first part of your email address)@free.kindle.com.” Make sure your Kindle wireless is turned on. Then, within five minutes, Presto Whamo, it is automatically downloaded to your Kindle.
    4. I appreciate your caution that one must have a kindle ready story to quickly follow a free gook. I’ve got six short stories behind my first, “A Melody.” All are in various stages of (gag) editing. These stories are all intertwined and, once my characters tell me how to end the last story, I intend to put them into a book entitled “Open Doors.”
    5. You can see my Amazon listing here: http://www.amazon.com/Melody-Open-Doors-ebook/dp/B007D2J1P8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1330143442&sr=1-1
    But, for Pete’s sake, don’t spend the 99-cents. It will be free either on the second or third weekend of March.
    6. (And finally) Just like I used Kate Harper’s book as my formatting Bible, I intend to use your “give away” column as my how-to-promote Bible. Which I thank you for. .

    1. Mike, Dave does reply to his comments – he’s old fashioned that way! It’s a good practice, though not many folk make the time for it. As this is a guest post I should have been diligently answering all the comments, only I was fast asleep in Australia and by the time I woke up it was my wife’s birthday, and she wouldn’t let me near the computer! So I’m a bit late… sorry!
      Some great tips you’ve got there. I’ve never read Kate Harper’s book (tho I’ll go check it out now) – I used a blog series by a bloke called Guido Henkel about formatting for the Kindle to do mine – Guido is another of the ‘good guys’ and is helpful almost to a fault. He actually did quite a bit of my formatting for me when I asked him advice on how to do some of the steps he outlined!
      That blog post series is here, out of interest:
      And thanks for the tip about emailing a sample direct to the Kindle – I’d heard about it before, but never figured out how to do it! Awesome, I’ll be adding that paragraph to my ‘To Do’ list! This is why it’s so great to be an indie – everyone helping each other out!
      And, as a result, I’ve bought, tagged and liked your book, and sent out a tweet saying I’ve bought it!

  14. what a great story. I hear some great things about the select programme, and also some bad ones too. I suppose there will be success stories and horror ones too just like anything else in this world of ours. It’s great to see someone earn some cash and plaudits though.

    It does sound like the kind of book i like to read too so i may just have to add this to my list

    Matt (Turndog Millionaire)

    1. Thanks Matt! It really is a bit of a lottery, going into Select. I’d say the most important things are having a really eye-catching cover, good title, interesting blurb, and then preparing like mad to let as many places as possible know about the freebie. Oh, and prayer never hurt… :0)

  15. Hi Tony,

    I’ve nearly finished my 2nd book – a sequel to the first, and I really do want to put this book in with KDP select. I’ve read so many stories of how other writers have had success with it. Btw, you emailed me to tell me that you had bought my book and would review it as soon as you had read it. Are you any closer on that front yet?

    1. Hiya!
      Yup, I’m on it! I Promise! It’s just taking me longer than I expected to get all my reading done – I allow myself a guilty hour or so each week for reading, as at any other point I feel there’s something more productive I ‘should’ be doing. Hell, I’m still halfway through Dave Gaughran’s ‘Valparaiso’ too! My mouth is bigger than my trousers when it comes to reading commitments, but I’ll get it done! I’ve moved Secret Confessions of a Backpacker Down Under to the top of my list on the Kindle! (I’ll be reading it on my phone tho – the missis never lets me near the Kindle itself!)
      Best of luck with the sequel too – damn, I wish I was as productive as you! I STILL haven’t got close to bringing out book 2. D’oh!

      1. Aww, don’t be too hard on yourself, lol. It was ages before I got going with my 2nd book but now, with a bit of self discipline, I’m on my way there. I’m just glad you actually remember buying my book and you weren’t all like – Eh? What? Huh? I’ve bought your book, really?! I don’t remember doing that!? – when you read my comment, lol :).

        Oh, I hope you enjoy it. Be prepared to take a cold shower at the end of it, lol!

        Good luck with your sequel, too 🙂

  16. Great Karma story… I’m strong believer of the big ‘K’, you know…
    This tale is almost a carbon copy of mine… only with a different outcome…
    Got a bloody funny novel set in an exotic location (ECO STATION ONE)… CHECK
    Made it FREE on Aunt Ammy during a four month period (in pre-Select days) CHECK
    Got thousands of downloads in Ammy and SWs…. CHECK
    Reached all reviewers in my list… CHECK
    Got a few 5-star reviews… CHECK
    But I must have done something very nasty in a previous life, because my usual Karma did kick in; the book never did take off at all… Reviewers got their copies (the physical copies giveaway nearly bankrupted me) and not a single one turned a review in after six months. (sigh)
    Well, this proves that old saying which states that it works for some and not for others.
    I’m still trying this FREE trick with my short story ‘The Recycling Kid’ (I’m a stubborn prick; I never give up) which has been running free for almost a month (fluctuating between the 40s and 60s in Amazon’s free chart), and has gained good reviews on its own but I’m skeptical of the results :/

    1. Hi Edwin!
      Yeah, luck does play a big part in these things. One thing I will say though, is that going free for too long can have a detrimental effect on a book’s sales. David made the point in answer to one of the comments above, that a long free stint for one book does little to help your cause unless you have another book for sale, preferably full-price, that you’re driving readers of the free book to buy. Think of it like this – someone gets your ECO-ONE book for free, loves it – statistically between 1 person in a hundred and one in a thousand leaves a review. (I gave away 22k books and have gained 20 new reviews so far – see?!) So this person tells their friend, who gets the book – again for free – and loves it. They both look for another book by you in a similar vein, can’t find one – so they go and get another free book from someone else and carry on that way. If there’s nowhere for them to go, you can’t really benefit, other than a handful of reviews. People have short memories – I read some awesome books recently, but I couldn’t name them all offhand, and if I was telling a friend what to get I’d probably recommend something I read in the last few weeks.
      Select works so well because it’s a short, sharp shock of free-ness! By the time person a) has read and loved the book, and told person b) – well, the book is back to full price. Person b) will either buy it or not depending on how much person a) made him want it (and his own inherent cheapness!). These sales are what drag the book up the ‘paid’ rankings after it comes off free, and they make the money which justifies the effort of running a really good free promo. There’s even a lot of debate in indie circles about the number of free days for the best result – I went with 2 days together based on this discussion. If the book stayed free for weeks or longer, everyone who wanted a copy would get one, and without a much bigger campaign the word-of-mouth sales will eventually lose momentum and dry up – leaving a great free book sitting there, still free, having sold loads of copies – and doing nothing to generate revenue.
      Personally I would never have gone free the ‘old’ way, via Smashwords and price-matching, because I have a small niche – I’d be afraid that by the time I got the book back to costing money, no-one would be left to buy it!
      Hope this helps – I’m not trying to preach, this is just my thoughts (possibly wrong!) on why the Select promos seem to work so well. Of course, they don’t always – as I said at the start, luck is always a big factor.
      Be lucky!

      1. Well, if you are interested in checking out “Eco Station One” (.. sort of taking a peek at the potential competition like Pepsi usually does…) I’ll be glad to issue you a Smashwords coupon… drop me a message at Facebook or at my twitter account @TheEdwinStark

  17. I WILL enjoy the books. You go write some more – there isn’t enough of your stuff to go to after this lot goes down the hatch.
    That’s another part of your marketing I’m watching.
    OTOH, if you can retire to Valparaiso on the earnings from one book, more power to you.

    1. Dave writes more than most humans could. It’s entirely possible he’s some kind of mutant writing machine from a parallel dimension… example; he’s committed to writing 60,000 words this February – heard of NaNoWriMo? National novel Writing month, that people rave about as being the ultimate writing challenge? Well this is 10,000 words MORE, in two days LESS… and so far as I know, he’s well on target! Unlike me, who is only about halfway, with less than a week to go :0(
      If anyone is retiring to South America, on merit, on effort, and on a wave of positive Karma – it’s him :0)

    1. You know, it’s my single favourite bit of the whole selp-pubbing world! Well apart from knowing that other people who I’ve never met are reading my work!
      The indie crowd is SO supportive – because almost all of us have been at the beginning of this journey at one point or another, and I bet none of the big-hitters would have made it so far without plenty of help from others in (and out of) the community.
      At the mo I’m on a mission to give a bit more back, as I’ve just been on the receiving end of a whole load of help for this free promo, and I don’t want to be the noted exception to the image of the helpful indie community! I’m trying to help by sharing my numbers (as they’re what I most wanted to know about when I first started out), sharing my advice (as this is what helped me most in the last six months) and sharing my contacts, for obvious reasons! I KNOW absolutely that I’ll be calling on the indie crowd for more help in the future, and I’d love people to want to help me because they know I try as hard as I can to help others… pay it back or pay it forward, it’s the heart of this little industry, and it’s our biggest and most useful tool. Trad publishers have their ways and means, but this isn’t one of them – it’s one of our cheeky little advantages! And it feels GOOD! I’ve had advice from people who sell a thousand times more than me and if I’m in that position one day I’ll make damn sure to help all the people who are where I am now!

  18. I agree with everything you say, David. But…as a newbie, it’s not easy to do. I would like to display the price of my short story as $0.99 with a line through it and show the current price as $0.00. When I uploaded to KDP (today) is listed the price at $0.99 and checked the box to be listed in the “lending library.” What I really want to do is make it free for at least a month. This is my first work on KDP and I need to develop a fan base.
    Anybody out there have any technical advice about how to achieve this pricing goal? Sure would be appreciated!

    1. There are a couple of ways to make your book free on Amazon:

      1. KDP Select. This is a 90 day rolling program with benefits such as being entered in the Lending Library, and five free days per 90 day session. The downside? You must give Amazon exclusivity, and can’t do things like giveaways or sell on Smashwords or anywhere else. Deets here (from the perspective of someone against, but has points pro and con): http://curiosityquills.com/how-much-do-you-want-to-get-paid-tomorrow/

      2. The old way. Upload your book to Smashwords. Set the price to free (they actually allow this). Enter it in the Premium Catalog. Once accepted, your book will get pushed out to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple etc. That takes a week or two, and Amazon should (eventually) price match.

      The second way is quite cumbersome, but works, and has the added benefit of making you free on six other sites. You have less control over when it goes free and when it goes back to paid, but you can leave it free permanently if you wish.

      A caution: the second way is a good strategy for increasing your readership, but (IMO) there is little point in doing it until you have other titles out, as there will be nothing else for people to buy. You could use it to build a mailing list etc., but readers may well forget who you are by the time you have something else out.

      And you can make money on 99c short stories. I only have 2 out and have sold 600 in nine months. Not nothing, and has brought me over $200 and plenty of new readers. I’m sure those numbers would be far more impressive if I had published lots more shorts. Something to consider.

  19. I am watching your marketing. This was your result with me today: I bought Bear. I stopped waffling and got Into the Woods (which I have been eyeing for a while – your cover is awesome). I bought Storm. And while I was at it, I bought Transfection (again – awesome cover). Why today? Because 1) his post was funny – and 2) I couldn’t just take Into the Woods for free (bothers me somehow), so I was looking for a Donate button, which I couldn’t find – so I had to go buy your stuff to make sure you made some money from the great content of your blog posts and guests’ posts.
    Just thought you’d like to know the details – for the process.
    Plus, I believe going to Amazon from your site is also good for you somehow?
    Entertainment sells. Your marketing is entertainment. Good job.

    1. Cheers ABE! It’s an awesome cycle – I sell a few copies via promotion, blog about it here which sells some more (WOOHOO!) and hopefully that drives the rank up so more people get interested and buy it… it really is a case of every little helps. Especially when people enjoy the book and tell their friends… :0)
      I actually had a review where this lady said she’d been reading it in the Doctor’s waiting room, and laughing, and the other patients had asked her to read out a passage as she was laughing so much! Stuff like this is what will hopefully lead to more knock-on sales, by which point it’s totally out of my hands. Very exciting – discovery – but there still needs to be something to follow it up, both in terms of new books to buy and a constant presence online for these people to find and interact with. Ah well! I guess life would become very boring if all we had to do was lounge around and watch the sales roll in… :0)

  20. Like you, I initially opposed KDP select – on general principles. Then I sat the fence for a month. Then I did it. No going back. I am not sorry.

      1. That really is The Question, isn’t it? Are there any benefits to continued membership – after all, how many free days can benefit a book before the market becomes saturated with it? Are there other fringe benefits, beyond the Lending Library…? Hard to say. I know I’ll be putting my next book straight into Select – but possibly taking ‘That Bear’ out at the same time… after all, there’s still that KOBO!

    1. In theory the best way would be to have as many books as possible available in as many places as possible – all with free excerpts in the back of each other, and further free excerpts available in as many places as possible. Spreading the net to catch the most fish so to speak. It’s only with the advent of KDP Select that this picture has been upset a little – is it better now to be exclusive to one place – even if it is the biggest – or to soldier on selling everywhere, and hoping it adds up to more than the sales and borrows from Amazon alone. I have to say that for me Select gave me ten times the exposure I’d have gotten from having the book for sale on all the different websites – Amazon is just too good at what it does which is enticing people to buy books! Having more books out – now that IS the key, as a free promo on one will help sell the others, effectively multiplying sales exponentially, and giving you plenty more free days to play with and price points to experiment with. So that’s my plan now – unsurprisingly – write more! :0)

  21. Tony,
    Brilliant story, congratulations (and thanks for all info about it at your blog). Despite your fears about Select, I think you did more diligence and work to promote than 90% of other self-published authors.

    1. Well, I put in a bit of time, but I had no idea what I was doing, or if it would help at all! I just couldn’t face the thought of the promo falling flat, and blaming myself because I knew I could have done more. I wished So hard for a guide of some kind, that would say: ’email X. FB message Y. Apply to blah.’ It would have been so much simpler if there was a template to follow and my efforts would have been more efficient – a laser beam rather than a floodlight! And I might even have gotten a bit more sleep… :0)

  22. I had a free day for my short and I wrote about 10 emails. Where on earth did you find 100 emails to write to?

    1. I was REALLY busy! I found loads of smaller sites and Facebook groups and got in touch with all of them. I’m way past being able to tell if they featured the book or not, as I was finding them and writing to them quicker than I could keep track of them. Most of these ones didn’t end up on my list as I figured most people wouldn’t be as obsessive about it as me – I felt a bit like I’d missed the boat with Select over Christmas etc, so I was determined to make the free splash as big as possible. If you start googling ‘free ebooks’ or ‘free Kindle books’ – you can go through a lot of pages of results before you run out of places to get in touch with!

  23. I’m pretty sure my heart rate went up when I read this post. I know the free e-book marketing plan works, if you’ve got a good book, but it’s nice to hear from those who have done it. I’ve found a number of good authors in the free e-book Kindle list and gone on to buy their other books. You’ve got a new follower. Congrats on your success and thank you David for posting this!

    1. There are so many good books in the Free section, especially now Select is letting anyone enrolled put their books free for a few days. It’s a great way to find new authors, and the authors themselves don’t mind in the least giving away loads of books, as the visibility it brings is what helps them sell more books after the free period ends. So, you can go and snap up books guilt-free, and there will be some poor ones and some average ones in the mix – but they’ve cost nothing, so no major loss! And when you find a good one, you can always give them a review to thanks them for giving away free copies! As well as, like you say, buy their other works – unless they don’t have any yet because (like me) they’re a lazy, lazy individual… :0)

  24. From one Slater to another: CONGRATULATIONS, Tony! Self-published authors who work hard and have a good product to promote deserve to at least make a minimum wage from their writing. Keep it up, and blow that minimum wage away.

    1. T’would be nice… but Australian minimum wage is a wonder to behold – probably the best anywhere I reckon – so it’ll be a while before I reach that threshold! It’d be nice to think I could live on the money – even modestly – that’s my goal for now, and the goal of quite a lot of writers, both indie and traditionally published! It’s not easy for any of us, but it’s possible. Or, I hope it is… :0)

  25. See – blog tours work… I went and read the sample and immediately downloaded a copy of your book. Paid real cash too! 🙂

    Good luck. Now quit this stuff and go write another one. Maybe you’ll start earning more than minimum wage.

    1. Awesome, thanks Penny!
      I’m working hard on the next one as we speak. And the next one… It’ll take a few book selling well to pay the bills now I live in Australia – it’s even more expensive than England over here! And minimum wage is about triple that in the UK, which is tempting me back towards a ‘real’ job… NNNOOOOooooo!!!

  26. Love the success story, and love Tony’s voice here — if he’s this funny in a blog post, I imagine he’s hilarious in the book. I’m going off to buy a copy myself. I can always use more laughter!

    Clearly he deserves all the good things coming his way. But Dave, what’s with the barechested photo with no warning? Be still, my heart!

    P.S. Don’t forget, all those of you who signed up for KDP Select, that you are re-enrolled AUTOMATICALLY at the end of your 90 day initial period unless you uncheck that box by a certain date in advance. Uncheck it NOW in case you’re not sure you want to be recommitted, or you’ll be stuck for another three months without being able to put your book on Kobe, B&N, etc.

    And P.P.S. My own last KDP Select free day for my best-selling political thriller RUNNING is tomorrow, Saturday, 2/25 — I’d love it if you would download it yourself and/or spread the word. You can find it here: http://amzn.to/RUNNINGnovel

    So Congrats to Tony! I got a little excited about the words Bare and Pants in the same sentence, but then I realized I was reading the title wrong…

    1. Thanks Patrice! I grabbed a free copy of Running – hard to resist at a price like that, eh! It’s doing really well to, no.14 in Political. Keep plugging away! I generally restrict the bare-chested type photos to my own blog, where more by chance than intent (yeah, right) – I seem to be publishing more and more pictures of myself naked. Hm. A worrying trend for sure…
      Good advice on the Select enrolment tick box thingumy. I’ll uncheck mine now, just so that I have chance to decide when the time comes. That’ll be another tough decision! No point in keeping making the same book free time after time, it’ll soon get old and/or flood the market – but I personally think Amazon skews the rankings a bit to give better visibility to Select books. I’ve no proof of course, but I have this feeling…

      1. Quick update on my latest results. I have three free books going today (my KDP Select days expire for these books on 3/8, and I was avoiding the beginning of the month with the mixed-up accounting, while looking for a weekend, which I think is optimal for max rise in chart position — thus, I spent all my days this weekend.)

        RUNNING is a full-length political thriller, 33 reviews, 4-1/2 stars, which has only been free for one day (though I used 2 separate days in Dec. and 2 in Jan.), and is now #1 in free political fiction, and #46 free overall. It’s at about 4,700 downloads, and will likely make 5,000 by the time it goes back to paid status. I’ve had the price @ $7.99 (which makes it look like a particular bargain when they cross that out to say “free”) but just changed it to $2.99, following the S.E.Gordon plan (also advocated by Joe Konrath) that it’s position rather than max profit we should now be seeking. I’ll let you know how post-free day sales go.

        “Looking for Lance” is a standalone short story, just 3,000 words. It’s only got 3 reviews, and one was a 1-star (she was angry that I padded the length with an excerpt from RUNNING, so she paid full price — $4.99 at that point — for only a few more pages). It’s now a 99¢ book. But that lack of stars hurts sales. It’s at 3-1/2. It has only 1880 free downloads after 2 days, and got the bulk of them today. It’s started to move, and is now #2 in free short stories. I think that the downloads of RUNNING helped get it some attention, because folks may have looked for other books by me. It will stay free through Sunday.

        I do have two other short stories out there, which have each sold exactly 1 copy today.

        One of my other authors, Frisky Dimplebuns (she’s my cousin) has written an episode of The Frisky Chronicles called DREAMBOAT. There are only two episodes out so far, but will be at least a dozen eventually. They sell for 99¢. This item is about 6,000 words only. It has 5 reviews and a perfect 5-star rating. After two days, it’s at 4381 free downloads and is #3 in humor. Certainly the author has a memorable name, so once it gets known, that will help! The second installment of The Frisky Chronicles is called “Ugly Sexy,” which the author thought was funny, but might be an unfortunate title. That one is really short, with only 3,000 words, approximately, and includes an advice section with “Dear Frisky” letters. It has sold 4 copies, all today. At only 99¢, I would have thought there would be more spillover from the first installment.

        I’m worried about these short publications, because I just looked at the short story list and saw a bunch of shorts about Amish living, and many people have given them 1-star ratings because they were so annoyed that they were so short. Duh! They’re short stories! It does seem that so many people are expecting full-length novels for free or 99¢ that they are incensed when they only get a few thousand words… maybe they’ve never encountered short stories? But you don’t have this problem, Dave, right? Perhaps I need to be very clear in my description (I think I am already) or even include it as part of the title…

  27. Thanks for yet another success story, David. I love it when you post them. I put Tony’s book on my Wish List (I’d have bought it, but the Kindle is upstairs and I’m too lazy to go hunt it down right now, but I will later and then get the book, which sounds like a hoot).

    Tony, congrats for being smart enough to ignore the naysayers, and brave enough to plow on ahead.

    1. Thanks Jaye!
      I think I was just frustrated with myself for being too cowardly to do it earlier! I wondered about entering Select for a long time – too long, in this industry – and so missed out on all those people buying Kindles for Christmas and going mad filling them up! I’m so glad I finally got over my fears though – I usually do the wrong thing, when given a choice, so I half expected to achieve nothing and see Kobo conquer the world!

  28. As usual, David, a great post.

    fyi: I didn’t do anything to promote my first venture into a two-day KDP free promo (Feb 13 & 14) other than contact a few sites and post a blurb on my site (NOBODY every goes there) but got close to 9,000 downloads and watched my book rise to #18 in my category and then kept selling for the rest of the week, and still getting sales, so I, too, see the benefit of giving away to rise up in the pile and create loyal readers (even got comments on my site from happy readers wanting to read more of my books). One free-downloader wrote me a one-star review which Amazon featured for a couple of days and my sales skyrocketed (at least by comparison with my usual).

    Thanks, Tony, for your list of heavy-hitter promoters to contact prior to the free promo. Invaluable. I’ll use it on my next free promo.

    And now since KDP select returned my query saying I could excerpt up to 10% of my KDP Select book on my site “and similar sites,” I am very happy I’ve chosen Amazon’s KDP Select for the ebook edition.

    Once again, THANKS to both Tony and David for this post.

    1. No worries Susan!
      That 10% is a great way to promote the book – I’m going to add 10% of my book to the back of the next book I publish, to help persuade readers who’ve bought one (or gotten it free via a Select promo) to buy the other one. Then, one free day on one book should generate cross-over sales on the other book(s) and vice-versa. Well, in theory at least!
      It’s amazing how ‘bad’ reviews can help stimulate sales – I think people often buy a book to prove a reviewer wrong, especially if they sound unreasonable (or stupid!) in their review. I hope the run of sales continues!

      1. A little off topic, but I’m trying something new; I don’t know if it will work but instead of linking images of my books to the Amazon sell page for each one, I’m linking to the page listing all my books (only 2 right now). The plus: users will see all my books listed. The minus: users will have to click twice before they can read the sell copy for one or download the one that’s free.

      2. Susan…I don’t know how to link anything to my Amazon sell page. Images or a listing of titles. Would you please do a Simpleton’s Step-by-Step Guide on how to get the linking done. Thanks very much!

  29. There are as much advocates as opponents of book giveaways. Tony’s book is a wonderful example of what to do to make the miracle happen (the miracle of turning a free book into a solid selling title).

    I discovered the power of giving the books away more than three/free years ago, thanks to Feedbooks.com. It was one of the first self-publishing services – and the one which was integrated in ereading mobile applications like Stanza for iPhone. My book is a fantastic niche – stories for tech geeks – and I used the channels (mobile apps) to get extraordinary exposure. Just recently it has hit 100,000 downloads!

    The second part, translating this exposure into sales (Kindle Store, Smashwords, and other self-pub services) is not as convincing, but examples you share at your blog, David, keep us, writers, sticking to the dreams:-)

    Thanks a lot!


    1. Wow, Piotr, that is a CRAZY amount of downloads! Perhaps you need to add an advert of some kind on the end of the free stories, pointing readers to where you’re selling the rest of them? I would think it would be best to have some freebies to draw customers in, and some longer ones that could only be bought – that’s what I’m trying to do now, bringing out a shorter book to work as a permanent freebie ‘loss-leader’. I’m still wary of putting the same book free again, as I only have the one – and sooner or later everyone who wants a copy, will have one already!

  30. It’s success stories like this I could read all day… nothing came easy, and it was a struggle for a real person/author… gives everyone hope and shows what talent, luck and pushing yourself to the max will bring you…

    Armand Rosamilia

    1. I’d LOVE to think that I can work hard enough to bring it all on by my efforts alone. In most jobs you can just work harder, or longer, to earn more or raise your skill level or reputation. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be that way, or at least not that simple, with writing. I put in a fair bit of effort as I’m terrified of not doing enough and so missing an opportunity, but still… I think luck played a big part, and the help I got from everyone else was absolutely what made this happen. But then I’m also a believer in making your own luck…!

      1. “In most jobs you can just work harder, or longer, to earn more or raise your skill level or reputation. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be that way, or at least not that simple, with writing.”

        As someone who has never liked working hard for any of my day jobs, but who’s always been willing to work extra hard for my writing career, this is something that’s always annoyed me. By all rights, if I work hard, give it my all, get creative in my marketing, etc., I should be successful. In fact, if that’s all it took, I feel like, by now, I should be Stephen King. But I guess it doesn’t work that way. More and more, I am finding there is no magic formula. It is definitely one of those throw-as-much-shit-against-the-wall-as-possible situations. Something will stick… eventually… but it seems like, for every person who makes it, it won’t always be the same exact thing.

  31. Wow, congrats to Tony, that’s a great adventure exceedingly well told, and thanks David for sharing it with us! I must say I had my doubts about all this free giving but the results sound real encouraging! Goes to show that the e-book pie out there is really big and getting larger…

    1. There’s more people buying ereaders every day, of course – nothing quite like Christmas, but I was banking on a few extra Kindles being bought as Valentine’s Day pressies. I have no idea if this happened, or if it had any effect – but ‘real’ books are popular Valentine’s Day pressies, so why not eBooks? Hm. Might be a few years before it’s considered romantic…

    1. Hi Jim! I will indeed ad you! And I’ll be sure to let you know when I do the next free promotion too! It’s al about getting as many places as possible to list the freebie, large and small, as they all have some unique readers. Hopefully my list, when it’s a bit better formatted, will be useful to others planning their free promos. I’d like that!

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