The Power of Free

The Dwarf's Dryad
The cover of a free story (well, this week, anyway)

Harnessing the power of free has nothing to do with that scene in Braveheart where William Wallace hollers “Freedom!” although I will admit I get a shiver down my spine when I hear it (movie has issues, but I still like it…). What it does have to do with is that marketing concept called “loss leaders” where you use something free, or cheap, to promote other products. Basically, in the vernacular “the first taste is free.” Look at the long-lasting success of the Baen Free Library for a terrific example of this in book marketing.

So how can we authors harness this idea, of giving our readers something that will tantalize them and have them coming back for more? Well, snippets on blogs, or even free books serialized on blogs (like Elf’s Blood over at Mad Genius Club), social media sites, and websites work well for existing fans. But I’m also using the KDP program on Amazon to schedule promotions and draw in readers who might never have heard of me otherwise. I see spikes in sales a week to a month after those promotions, and they are easy to do.

Marketing, and sales, ought never to be an unending stream of “buy my stuff” because how do you react to that? You’re repelled by it, like most people are. Face it, no-one needs to buy a fiction book. It’s not like underwear, or food, or a roof over their heads. It’s entertainment. There are a few of us in the world who have to read, must have books, but even I don’t need to buy books, there are enough libraries and now, free books online, to feed that compulsion of mine.

This means that there needs to be a relationship between author and reader. You have to hook that reader, catch them with content that is compelling enough to have them willing to lay down their scarce disposable income – and that’s going to get harder to do as the economy continues to slide downward – and further more, to keep them coming back. How do you do this? Why should you have to do this?

Face it, even if you are traditionally published, your publisher does very little to nothing for you, the author, to promote your book. It’s up to you, if you plan to make money doing this, to promote your own work. If you are independently publishing, you already know that you must promote, or perish. If you’re publishing just because it makes you happy to have a book in print, congratulations! Most of us who write want that, yes, but also money would be good. So we learn to promote. Sales doesn’t work, we’ve decided, so this giving away, while painful in that we’re not being paid for some of our hard work, does make sense.

I use Kindle Direct Publishing increasingly for my sales efforts. All other markets combined don’t show a fraction of the sales I get through Amazon every month, and I am not bothering with them much any longer. In order to run a free promotion through KDP, the book must be exclusive to Amazon. If you have it up at Smashwords, it isn’t hard to click the unpublish button, take it down for 90 days, and then you can publish it again with one click. Once you are enrolled in KDP with your book, it’s easy to set up the promotion.

From your bookshelf, you can select “manage promotions” from the drop down “actions” button in the upper left hand corner, with the title desired checked to select. Then you will name the sale, choose the dates you want to begin and end, anywhere from 1-5 days in length, and save it. There, you are set to do your first sale, now what? Well, now you blog, post on social media, ask friends to share those posts, and wait. This is a little different from begging people to buy your book, now you are giving it away for free, and they won’t mind seeing those sort of promotions. Also, you will appear in Amazon’s free sales, and there is where hundreds if not thousands of readers who had no idea you existed, will see and download your book.

You will likely not see an immediate hike in sales numbers. Instead, starting about a week after the sale has ended, you will notice that your sales are going up. Many who picked up the free book, will have just now finished reading it, and if you have a link to your other works in the back of that book, will click through and buy more from you. Most readers are creatures of habit – if they like an author, they are very likely going to buy everything that author writes. This tail to your sale will last anywhere up to a month, as those who grab more than they can read right away on the free sale finally get around to it.

I’ve just set up The Dwarf’s Dryad to go on sale from Monday through Friday. I expect to accomplish two things with this. First, anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand, based on previous free offering’s numbers, will go out, into the hands of people who will hopefully like, and want more of me. Second, it doesn’t have any reviews yet, being a recent release, and that many readers will help solve that issue. I also know the sales of my other work will pick up after, so it is a win for me all the way around.

And for my readers? Hey, free story!

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