Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why I Offered My Book for Free. Again.

47,531. That's the total number of copies of my novel Valley of Thracians that were downloaded during its five-day promotion at the beginning of March. 47,531. That number is so huge, so unbelievable, that I'll probably repeat it a number of times in this article. If I had a dollar for every copy that was downloaded, I would be a rich man. Well, a bit richer. But the thing is this – the huge number of downloads was a result of my offering the book for free. Again.

In March 2013, just two months after I self-published the novel, I ran a free promotion. At the time, I was amazed that 8,440 copies were downloaded. The book peaked in 27th place on Amazon's Free for Kindle bestseller list. In October that year, I ran a discounted book promotion, offering it for sale at $0.99, and 910 copies were sold in one week.

After all this time, why did I decide to again offer the book for free? How did I manage to get 47,531 downloads? And what did I achieve with this free promotion?

In the two years since my book was published, sales have tapered off. Despite my huge Twitter following, and despite the fact that I blog for The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, and occasionally for The Oslo Times, my growing audience of readers is not rushing to buy my novel. When you get a royalty check from Amazon every three months that's just over the $100 mark, you realize that you're not going to be leaving your day job any time soon.

I was eager to get my novel into the hands (and Kindles) of more readers, but how could I do this? I could again lower the price to $0.99, but discounting the book would only be successful if prospective readers would know about the book. And that meant I would need to advertise.

There is no doubt in my mind that the best means of advertising digital books is BookBub, the leader in email newsletters offering great deals on bestselling books. Due to its success, and the massive number of its subscribers, BookBub has raised the cost of advertising with them. To post my discounted book in their Thriller category, with over 1,900,000 subscribers, would cost $660. I would need to sell 1,855 copies in order to cover the cost of an ad.

BookBub is highly selective. Not every author can get his or her book listed in its newsletters. In fact, most submissions are rejected, and no explanation is given why. I submitted my novel for another $0.99 discount promotion, and it was rejected. Repeatedly.

Then I realized that my real goal was to get more readers. To spend $660 and possibly earn slightly more than that in return wasn't all that exciting to me. But to stage another free promotion and to gain more readers – that would be worth the cost of a $315 advertisement.

BookBub included a listing for my book, offered for free, in its mailing on March 2nd. Do BookBub ads work? Consider this: my novel was downloaded 32,245 times on March 2nd and jumped to 2nd place on the overall Free for Kindle bestseller list, where it remained for over 24 hours. An additional ad in EReader News Today the next day (which only cost $20), brought additional downloads. And the final total of downloads, after five days, was 47,531.

Was it worth it? Let me tell you what has happened in the two weeks since the free book promotion ended. A total of 26 copies of the book have been purchased at its regular price (an amount I usually sell in 4 months). And a total of 25 new reviews of the book have been posted on Amazon.

Not all of the reviews have been positive, I must admit. One reason is that my book was advertised in BookBub's Thrillers newsletter. Valley of Thracians, with its emphasis on setting and vivid descriptions of Bulgaria, is not a conventional thriller.

On the other hand, I have encountered many new, exuberant readers. Here is what one reader from Livonia, Michigan, wrote me in an email:

"I have just completed the reading of your novel and I enjoyed it immensely. The reading of the book took me back to the days of my visit to Bulgaria in 1981 when I visited ALL of the sites and villages that you mentioned in your writing: how exciting this was for me. Bulgaria is the homeland of both of my parents so I could relate very well to your descriptions of people, places, foods and RAKIA. You tied-in so much historical stuff with an exciting mystery/thriller and for this I say BLAGODARED!"

This email really moved me. It proved that my writing successfully conveyed the message that I had intended. I don't know how many of the 47,531 people who downloaded my novel this month will actually read the book, but knowing that there are readers all around the world who appreciate it, made my free book promotion very worthwhile.

Related articles:

How My Book Became an Amazon Bestseller (for 3 Days)

How I Sold 910 Copies of My Book in One Week


  1. Hi Ellis, what other ways do you use to publicise/market your book?

    1. Hi Heys, thanks for stopping by! Feel free to explore my website and read the other articles describing what I've done to publicize/market my book. Some of these articles are linked on this page.

  2. An interesting post. I've just published my first novel 'The Sex Doll Solution' on Kindle and am just starting to publicise it, so any information is useful.
    I found myself wondering whether it would take as much time to publicise it as it did to write it.
    Crazy thought?
    Maybe not.

  3. Do you have another book coming up? I had a similar sort of success in 2012 - in those days you got as many downloads as that without using BookBub, but, alas, times are different now, are they not?! It took me to #24 in the PAID chart (in the UK), and at one point I was selling a book every few minutes. Okay, so it doesn't mean continuing bestsellerdom for any but the very few who just manage to hit a spot that's popular with a large range of people (my novels are a tad too 'genre free' for that, I fear!), but it's nice while it lasts, isn't it! And getting all those new reviews, too. :)

  4. I've run a few $0.99 sales reduced from $3.99, but I haven't dared to run a Free sale yet. Reading your post is moving me closer to giving Free a try. My first novel has sold more than 20k copies but sales have slowed dramatically--maybe its time.

  5. (Not sure my last post went through okay, so posting it once again)
    Hi Ellis,
    I have a question for you but first let me thank you for this great post. I've found your articles to be very informative in the past and always watch for your tweets too.
    My question is about listing your book for free on Amazon and how you did this? As i see your title is now at $4.99 on Amazon.com and I'm curious to know when you ran the free promotion through BookBub did you sign up for KDP Select to change the pricing on your Kindle Book to $0.00 for the 4 to 5 day window that you ran the BookBub Promotion? It's a very confusing path I've encountered and while I write books for kids vs what you write. I cannot figure out how to lower my amazon price to $0.00 or Free without enrolling in the 90 day KDP Select... which i did for my first full length children's novel two years ago and did not find much reward even though it was downloaded 589 times... Anyway, if you could share a bit of insight on how you managed to run the free promo with BookBub and have the kindle version of your book listed for $0.00 or Free on Amazon I would be extremely grateful.
    Kindest Regards,
    Chris (a.k.a. C.D. Bryan - Flight Knights series author)

    1. In order to do this, you need to offer your book exclusively on Amazon through its KDP Select program.

  6. Hi Ellis. I read your articles about publishing Valley Of The Thracians with interest. But when I visit Amazon I can only find two books published by you. I wondered how you felt about the 'Write, Publish, Repeat' idea? I mean, rather than now wondering why valley of The Thracians isn't selling as well as it did, why didn't you continue writing, publishing etc? Many authors are earning a living through the trickle sales of older books. New readers will read what you release now, then go back and see what you wrote before kind of thing. As of today Valley Of The Thracians is £3.74 on Kindle UK. More than I'd pay for a book and author I'm not really aware of. If it were cheaper (£0.99 to £1.99) and you had other books as sequels or similar work then I would probably buy. Hope you don't mind my musings. All the best to you. David.

    1. Great advice David! And yes, another book is on its way!

  7. Great article! Actually really helpful for setting one's pricing policy.

  8. Thanks Ellis for sharing this latest on book promos. We are always interested in learning how other writers are working to promote and results. :)