Do Amazon Freebees Work?

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Want to sell more eBooks? Running an Amazon freebee may help you do it. It helped me. Since 2012 , when I joined Amazon’s KDP select, I’ve done twenty free promotions, and I’d like to share what I’ve learned with you. The good, the bad and the ugly!

Visibility, visibility, visibility
The primary reason to give your book away free is to get visibility. Imagine walking into Barnes & Noble and seeing your book displayed on the first table you see! Now imagine your book on top of Amazon’s Kindle page! There are other benefits. You attract new readers and get more reviews, but your most important goal is visibility.

Okay, you might not hit the front page on Amazon’s website, but other pages are just as important. When readers go to bookstores, they often look for a specific type of book. Remember the two categories you chose for your book when you published it? Doing a KDP freebee can put your book at the top of those categories.

amazon-freebeesFiction vs. non-fiction
My current books include four crime novels (print and Kindle) and three non-fiction Kindle eBooks. I’ve done freebees for all of them. My fiction titles do better than my non-fiction titles, so if you publish non-fiction exclusively, you may have to work harder to raise the number of free downloads. In a moment, I’ll share the results of the freebee I did for one of my crime fiction novels: Natalie’s Revenge. But first, some general conclusions from my analysis of the twenty freebees I’ve done.

Use all five of your free days at once
In 2012, I did 12 freebees: 11 for the first two books in my series, and one for the novel I published in December that year. In 2013 I split the freebees: two days and three days for the first two books. In 2013, I did only 6 freebees, using all five days at once. Why? Promoting your freebee takes time, and I’d rather spend my time killing people. Fictionally, of course!

Results for Natalie’s Revenge freebee
In May 2013, I ran a five-day freebee for Natalie’s Revenge. Here are the results for Days 1-5. Downloads and the book’s rankings in various categories at the end of each day.

  • Day 1: 24,948 downloads 
    Rank: #1 hard-boiled mystery; #1 mysteries, #2 Mystery-thriller- suspense, #3 ALL freebees
  • Day 2: 33,142 downloads (the totals are cumulative, Day 1 + 2)
    Rank: #1 in all the above categories, #7 ALL freebees
  • Day 3: 35,766 downloads (day 1-3) 
    Rank: #1 mystery series; #2 hard-boiled; #4 mysteries; #4 mystery-thriller-suspense; #11 ALL
  • Day 4: 37,892 downloads (Days 1-4) 
    Rank: #1 mystery series; #3 hard-boiled; #6 mysteries; #7 mystery-thriller-suspense; #20 ALL
  • Day 5: 41,680 (total downloads Days 1-5) 
    Rank: #1 mystery series; #1 hard-boiled; #2 mysteries; #5 mystery-thriller-suspense; #24 ALL

These are great numbers and fabulous visibility. How did I do it? In addition to posting my usual alerts on free sites, newsletters and social media, I ran a paid advertisement on BookBub.

BookBub
BookBub may be the best investment you can make for your freebee. BookBub reaches an incredible number of readers. Their pricing page gives numbers on how many readers you will reach and a range of download numbers to expect.

As you can see, it’s not cheap, but it worked for me. I’ll give you my sales figures (post-freebee) below, but first, here’s a comparison between the May 2013 freebee for Natalie’s Revenge with the BookBub advert and another freebee I ran for the book without a BookBub advert.

As noted above, in May 2013, I had 41,680 downloads. In December 2013, I ran a 5-day freebee for the book without a BookBub advert. That time my downloads totaled 6,477. Needless to say, my rankings were poor.

For the May 2013 freebee I paid BookBub $240 to advertise Natalie’s Revenge in their mystery category. Note: since then BookBub prices have increased. However, $240 is a hefty chunk of money. Was it worth it? Yes!

natalie's revenge
Buy the Book

Sales numbers for Natalie’s Revenge
Worldwide sales totals for my three novels in May 2013, with a BookBub advert:
Absolution (Book 1) 292    Diva (Book 2) 189  Natalie’s Revenge (Book 3) 495

Prior to the freebee, my sales totals for all three novels were 49. But by the end of the month, totals sales for the novels were 976. My income for May 2013 far exceeded the cost of the BookBub advertisement. In fairness, I must point out that having a series of novels helps. When readers download a free book and like it, they tend to buy other books in the series. But the biggest factor that drove sales was visibility, visibility, visibility.

What to expect after your freebee
Remember the high rankings I got with Natalie’s Revenge during the freebee? That got me great visibility, but only on the list for Free books. After the freebee, your sales rank for the book plummets. Why? Because you haven’t been selling books, you’ve been giving them away. But take heart! This only lasts a day or two. Then your sales will increase, often dramatically. Here’s why. In addition to the Top Selling books list, there is another list, the Popular Books list.

The Popular Books list
To access this list, click on the “Kindle eBooks” link at the top of your book’s Amazon page. This takes you to the Popular Books list. Scroll down the left hand side to your category. Amazon uses a different formula to compile rankings for the Popular List. In addition to sales numbers, Amazon includes the free books you gave away. I don’t know the exact formula, but when thousands of readers download your free book, as they did Natalie’s Revenge in May 2013, this boosts the book’s ranking in its category on the Popular List, often onto the first page, the one readers see first. That’s great visibility!

The two Amazon categories I chose for Natalie’s Revenge are crime fiction and mysteries. Both are broken into sub-categories (with fewer titles and less competition). In the days after the freebee, Natalie’s Revenge hit the first page on all of them. This resulted in visibility and visibility drives sales.

Of course, it helps to have an enticing book cover, lots of good reviews and a thrilling description that hooks your readers. Natalie’s Revenge has all three.

So there you have it, folks. I hope this has been helpful. When you do your next freebee, try my suggestions. I’d love to hear how it goes.

5 Comments
  1. Avivit says

    Thank you, Susan for this detailed info!
    I will try to follow your suggestions to the letter.

  2. Kendra says

    Susan,

    Wow. I just can’t tell you how useful your article has been to me (and I’m sure to thousands+ of other writers!) I’ve wanted to know more about authors who take this route for so long because I always figured I’d do the same with my first book. This article was so useful I’m bookmarking it. Your results are truly amazing and I hope to get great ones when I finally publish, like you have. Thanks a million for sharing this information with us. The info you shared about using BookHub and others to get exposure is truly valuable information for writers who want to publish this way. 🙂

    I’m so going to have to check out your books. Sounds just like my type of read, especially Natalie’s Revenge!

  3. Susan Fleet says

    Thanks for the comments. I’m so happy that my article was helpful. There is no magic bullet when it comes to marketing, but in the proper circumstances, as I described in my article, giving your book away can attract new readers and increase sales of your other books.

    Best of luck to all!
    Susan

  4. Eileen Browne says

    Very helpful, scientific even.
    Thank you for sharing this piece on Angie’s!

  5. Susan Fleet says

    You’re welcom, Eileen. So happy you found it helpful!
    Susan

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