Give It Away! Strategies for making your ebook free

For authors going indie, it quickly becomes apparent that the best way to get the word out about your books and stories is to give some of it away for free. Although handing out novels like they are candy doesn’t have quite the same impact it did two or three years ago, it still may be the best strategy for newcomers to the digital publishing game.

There are several reasons why you should consider going free:

  1. General exposure: your name and your titles get into the market and under readers’ noses, even if none of them downloads your work.
  2. You allow readers to sample your work without any risk.
  3. If you’re writing a series, giving the first book (or related short story) away can be a “loss leader” for getting readers to commit to the whole series.
  4. Titles that are downloaded enough times can make it onto Amazon’s Top #100 lists in their category and sub-categories, leading to increased exposure, since many readers cruise these lists looking for something to read.

Fantasy and steampunk author Lindsay Buroker suggests that permanently or semi-permanently offering a title for free might even beat out all other advertising avenues. See her great post Does Advertising Work for Authors? (AKA We Wanna Sell More Books, Dagnabit).

How to Go Free
Currently, I know of two ways to go free and still keep the ability to charge in the future:

  1. The old fashioned way: you must format and upload your work to Smashwords and set the price to your desired amount. Wait for it to propagate to the various channels (Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.). This may take a week to several weeks. Once the price has migrated to all of the channels, set it to $0.00 on Smashwords and wait once again for it to reach your channels.

    Click for larger image.

    Amazon’s automated crawlers and bots will eventually detect the price as long as it’s with what it considers a major competitor (B&N, iBooks), and price match accordingly. This is not an exact science and may take some time. You can help facilitate the process by going to your book’s Amazon page and under “Product Details”, filling out the link “Tell Us About a Lower Price?” (see image, right).

  2. Enrolling your title in KDP Select. Amazon, knowing the Power of Free, permits authors that enroll a title in Select to make their title free for up to 5 days (in one day increments) over the 90 day enrollment period. In return, that title cannot be sold or given away during the same time frame, i.e., Amazon is the exclusive channel for your book. It’s generally understood that one-day sales don’t often get good results, as some people procrastinate and others like to pass on the sale info to friends who may arrive too late to take advantage of a single day sale.

I’ve conducted two “sales” so far using KDP Select and have messed up a few things each time, so I thought I’d compile a punch list of must-do’s that might help if you want to give your sale a chance of making a splash. I’ve also put one title free the old-fashioned way and found out some interesting things there, as well.

KDP Select
(These tips are generally good for either free method, but some may only make sense if you are doing limited sales days through Select. Modify if your title is free the old-fashioned way for longer periods.)

Plan your sale in advance
Pricing your title $0.00 the day after you enroll it in Select doesn’t give any of your promotional efforts a chance to work; the sale will be over before anyone knows about it. As a rule of thumb, hold it at least a week in advance so you can get all your promo organized and give 3rd party websites (see below) a chance at listing you.

Pick your dates carefully
It should go without saying that if you enroll in Select in October, you should probably hold onto your 5 free days until closer to Christmas, or at least until Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S.) or Digital Monday (the Monday after Black Friday), right? But think about other holidays, three day weekends, and beach holidays throughout the year. David Gaughran held a $.99 St. Patrick’s Day Blowout sale where he gathered 26 authors offering 30+ books. The gimmick and the “feel good” nature of the holiday almost certainly helped boost sales better than if he’d held it on a random, unremarkable weekend in the middle of May.

In a more general sense, there seem to be better days than others. Personally, I’ve found weekends to be poor sellers; my assumption is that readers are out doing things, not buying books. I may try a few Tuesday-Wednesday sales just to nab them when they’re at work, clicking around the Internet. Also, Pixel of Ink strongly recommends not holding a sale on the 1st of any month; so many free books come out then, they argue, that yours will get lost in the mess. Read their nice article How to Maximize Free Book Promotions.

Get your social media cooking
Five months ago, the only social media I used was Facebook; I avoided all the other services like the plague, not wanting to get sucked in. Unfortunately, the days of writing in a corner and hoping someone finds you are over; if you want readers to be exposed to your work, you’re going to have knock on some digital doors. The good news is that it’s really not that hard or time consuming.

The basic services and sites I try to hit (by no means comprehensive):

  • A blog post (make sure it’s linked in to your Amazon and Goodreads Author pages and it will propagate)
  • Mail list if you have one (try
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn (several subgroups like Fiction Writers Guild)
  • Goodreads (free ebook Group:
  • Facebook
  • Digg
  • Stumbleupon
  • Reddit

 Two tips for using social media effectively:

  1. Register and tinker with these services before you start a sale. The day your book goes free is not the day to figure out how Facebook works. While some of the services and sites are straightforward, some are not and you might waste precious time learning that you’d be better off with a Facebook “page” instead of a “profile”.
  2. I’ve been experiencing with social media aggregators (HootSuite and Tweetdeck) that allow you to pull Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, and several other social media networks together into one software application. This may help you keep your sanity by just organizing things but the best part: it allows you to schedule Tweets, FB posts, and messages to other channels in advance. Time these announcements with your 2-day sale and you’ll be able to sit back and watch the numbers instead of scrambling to alert the masses.

Post your sale to sites that list and promote free books
This is the number one traffic-getter for authors just starting out who don’t have a robust personal network (read about the great success I had with one of them here). Many blogging and book review sites know that a huge number of their readers are looking for free books, so they’ll run daily or even hourly updated lists of free books. Note, however, that some require (or you’ll benefit the most from) being alerted ahead of time.

Check out the Squidoo article Going FREE! Kindle eBook Promotional Campaigns for Authors for other tips and sites, though be aware that some of the link information is already dated.

Sites you’ll want to hit on a sale:


Pixel of Ink

Kindle Nation Daily

Goodreads ebook Giveaways Group

Indie Books List
Make sure Sunday preceding if you can

Books on the Knob

Contact form only

eReader Freebies
Contact form only

I hope this article helps anyone out there trying to go free or considering it. The advice given and the sites lists are far from complete; please share your knowledge and experiences in the Comments Section!


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Tips for eAuthors
8 comments on “Give It Away! Strategies for making your ebook free
  1. yoga-adan says:

    matthew, great info! glad you put the link to lindsay’s article too, am reading that next

    what are your thoughts re having a book free always (maybe a series vol 1 type) vs all the small promotions

    i know too, i’ve been guilty more than once of doing my notifications a day or two before a sale, yea, not good 😉

    thanks matthew!

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hey Adan! Thanks for hanging out. Regarding always having a book free, I’ll defer to Lindsay’s approach, which is to only do it if you have a series to tempt readers into committing to the whole enchilada, but if that’s the case, then DEFINITELY do it. It seems to be working well for her, even over-and-above her advertising efforts.

      I also can’t stress enough how helpful it is to be picked up by one of the free sites (which means planning ahead and contacting them early). ran my collection THREE SHORTS out of the blue. Until that point, I’d given away 500 copies in a month; in about 48-72 hours, I had 3,500 more downloads. I can’t say this translated into sales, but I’m after exposure at this point, not bank. 🙂

      • yoga-adan says:

        yea, i definitely need to plan much earlier

        ent seems to do a great job, and i’ll sure take any help i can get 😉

        re the free book, i feel i finally have enough to do some free vol 1’s, as each series’ vol 1 is free, one after the other, over the next 4-5 weeks

        wish me luck 😉

  2. Great post — thanks for the list of sites for promoting freebies!

  3. […] books away is still one of the best promotional tools available to authors (see my post Give It Away for strategies and a list of sites where you can list your free ebooks). The difference with […]

  4. […] free for 5 days out of each 90. KDP is not the gold mind it was even a few months ago, but–as I mention elsewhere—free is still a great way to achieve aforementioned […]

  5. […] I mention here, there are several great sites that will promote Select sales if given enough lead time. I wrote […]

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