7 Tips to Make Your Free Book Downloads a Marketing Success

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Writers are convinced making their book free for a short while will propel their books to the best seller lists and it's all to the readers' advantage. Free books! Why would writers want to give away their books? To expand their audience...

I just ran such a free promotion (form 7 to 9 March for my new collection of short stories DEATH ON FACEBOOK) and I wanted to share with you what I learned about free promotions so far and how to run them. I used the KDP Select feature that allows you 5 days of free promotion every three months, but I'm certain that what I'm saying here applies to whatever system you use to give-away your books. 

First, as the promotion is on-going, keep an eye on it. Amazon tells you how many free downloads are made by the hour (that's on your "reports" board) and calculates your ranking overall in the free books available in the Kindle Store, and if you've classified your book in a genre, it also gives you the ranking every hour. 

If you've picked a genre where there's little competition, for example "techno thrillers", you can easily shoot up in the top 100 and become a "best seller" overnight. Ok, it doesn't mean much because it's the "paid in Kindle Store" list that really counts, but it certainly is a boost to the ego! My DEATH ON FACEBOOK shot up to  #19 in the literary fiction category. It didn't stay long there, and went back up to 25 or so, but at least I broke into a top 100, even a top 20! And I felt really good: this was the "literary" list which has the reputation of being a tough one to climb (lots of titles in it because, in a sense, unlike a sub-genre, it rakes in a lot of titles). Actually, if you want to hit #1 all you need do is get your book classified in an obscure genre... 

No need to get too excited: that's a fleeting moment of fame if there ever was one! Amazon's computer refreshes the data constantly so it's like riding a toboggan.

Whether DEATH ON FACEBOOK will get anywhere in the "paid" rankings has yet to be seen - first the promotion must end. I'll keep you posted, but here I wanted to explore what makes for a successful promotion.

Let me start by saying that I wasn't sold on the idea of a free promotion. I couldn't see the point. People download free books, yes, but do they read them? There is that terrible equation lurking in the back of my mind: free means without value.

Is making your book free equal to making it worthless?

David Gaughan recently reported on the astonishing success of one of his writer friends with a book that has most certainly a great title: "That Bear Ate My Pants". Several of my writer friends told me of their success, claiming that hundreds of free downloads were followed by a bump in sales the next days. Still dubious?  Here's another remarkable success story reported by Rob Blackwell: How KDP Select Made Me a Best Selling Author.

Okay, so what do all these success stories have in common?

1. A great title - the book cover doesn't matter as much. People have no time to check it out - remember downloading a free product on Internet takes a few seconds, it's done on an impulse. Rob's title was good: A Soul to Steal . I'm not asking you waht you think of mine!

2. An effective pitch line - when promoting your book, you need to catch the readers' attention fast, with four or five words. I played with the words in my book title: "who's dead on Facebook, find out!"That was good and short, easy to use in tweets.

3. Get reviews if you can: this is tough because you're promoting the book precisely because it's new, you haven't had time to gather reviews or "likes" on the Amazon site. I was lucky that my book immediately attracted the attention of two very talented fellow writers, Oscar Sparrow and Emma Calin (whom I've met on Internet), and they immediately posted fantastic reviews that made me blush. But reviews do help, and so do the number of "likes": that's something people see when they download the book.

4. Hard marketing work -  first you ought to plan on it in advance. Get your freebie announced all over the place in appropriate online sites like Pixel of Ink (email form on site), Ereader News Today (use the admin addie on their Contact page), Kindle on the Cheap (email form onsite), WLC's Friday announcement of freebies, Free Kindle Books and Tips or post on the Authors on the Cheap on Facebook on the days it's free. I must confess I did none these except for Pixel of Ink and that didn't work: my giveaway period came and went and they never announced it. My form had been duly compiled in advance but maybe it fell through in the clouds of Internet...

So that's one area where I didn't play my game right. I ended up left with just my own devices: my contact list (which I forgot to use!) and my friends and followers on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Google+. 

So yes, you'll find you are tweeting like mad (scheduling tweets so that they are not bundled together and spam people) and posting everywhere. Your only hope is that your followers and friends will retweet. Use whatever reading club you belong to, whatever social media you've joined! And of course, use your blog to announce the freebie. 

Be prepared for a lot of glitches! So play on many different boards.  I had just joined PINTEREST, a new site that's catching on fast. And small wonder, it's great fun: it's not based on words and messages but on images - as everyone knows, pictures are a favorite on Internet. You get to pin pictures you come across the Internet organize them by boards and share with your friends. If you're intrigued, here are the boards I just started: http://pinterest.com/claudenougat/ . 

I don't know whether it works for a free promotion but it might if you organized a board around it. Take a look at my boards,  you'll see there's one titled "books worth reading". It would be fairly simple to start a board built around a single book title. Haven't had time yet, but I will certainly do so: I can just see a DEATH ON FACEBOOK board filled with  lots of weird, terrifying pictures! And include in there a poster announcing your giveaway (you can do one quickly with felt tipped pens and take a picture of it). Try to make it eye-catching or humourous!

And, by the way, make your promo messages as personal as you can, nobody likes to be spammed!

5. A sufficient time for promotion: 2 days is a minimum, 3 days is better. Five days? I don't know. I've tried 3 days this time and it seems to work - but my blog, where everyone expects me to post twice a week had begun to suffer (today is Friday). So you need to push your free promotion without forgetting your blog!

6. Schedule the promotion away from busy times: Pixel of Ink, warns that on the first of the month there's a glut. Maybe so. In any case, it seems to make sense to offer the book free during the week: just like people reads blogs more during the week than on week-ends, the promotion will reach more people during the week.

7. Remember to promote after the free period is over: this is a point Rob makes in his blog post, and perhaps the best source to consult on how to do this is Jeff Bennington's guide.

So, yes, a free promotion is not exactly a time for the author to sit back and do nothing! Indeed, as reported by J.D.Currie on his blog  - he's one of the many writers who have participated in KDP Select's free promotions - results can vary enormously between authors: some are extatic, others are disgruntled. Who knows why...Currie reports that the positives outweigh the negatives. 

One important difference in results seems to hinge on whether you have more than one book for sale. Best of all if your books are in a series: then giving one away, boosts the others. Makes sense. Obviously, that's exactly what I'm hoping for: if you liked DEATH ON FACEBOOK, you're going to be curious and want to check out FEAR OF THE PAST!
I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Long-term effects of free promotion? The results aren't in, nobody really knows (or don't want to tell). Logically, free promos provide a bump in sales - whether the bump is transformed in a steady rise is a question of luck. And yes, the quality of the work matters. After all, we are talking about literature, aren't we?

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