The Final Results of My Free Ebook Offer Experiment

How far can a free ebook offer take a new writer on the block?

Pic: LisetteBrodey (Pixabay)

Maybe offering a book for free can indeed do wonders for some (perhaps better established) writers but I cannot say I was among them. The results of my free promotion experiment, however, were also not at all bad and I certainly don’t regret giving it a try.

The results

My ebook was available for free from March 17, 2018 to April 17, 2018 on all major platforms (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes&Noble…). I invested a few dollars into a tiny promotion campaign, shared the news with my followers on social media and wrote a blog post about it.

During the free promotion month, the ebook received about 700 downloads (mostly on Amazon). It also got a few additional reviews (again, on Amazon but not elsewhere) and it led to some new subscribers through the free offer/subscription form I placed inside the book.

The promoted ebook

The good

The main benefit of offering my book for free was that I was able to introduce my work to a wider circle of readers. Also, receiving more reviews and gaining new subscribers was a good thing. In addition, the free ebook led to a boost in sales of the paperback edition as well, so all of that was great.

My ebook climbed to #1 in all three relevant categories!

Offering my book for free also raised its ranking on Amazon and it stayed in the top places in relevant categories throughout the promotion month.

Another good thing is that I can now learn from the results and compare them to those of other self-published writers. Not every book will produce the same results and that’s why I find it important to share and compare our findings.

If you tried this yourself, please let know me how it worked for you. Also, keep in mind that much depends on the genre and target audience. The most popular genres, such as romance, erotica, and YA will most likely lead to better results due to their popularity alone.

The bad

The bad side of it was that some of the new readers were not of the kind I was hoping for. Only four readers reviewed the book during the free promotion month and some of them lowered the book’s rating with reviews that were a complete opposite of what other readers said.

Can you find the odd one out?

I’m not sure how to interpret this paradox but for some weird reason, as also reported by other writers, books tend to get worse reviews when they are offered for free. The results of my experiment confirmed this. If you have any idea why some readers might be more critical of the book if they get it for free, let me know in the comments.

Another rather disappointing thing was the low number of new subscribers. I placed a subscription form in the book where I offered my next book for free as an incentive. According to some self-published writers, for instance Mark Dawson, this should work well but it resulted in only three new subscribers.

It’s also true, though, that not everyone will start reading the book as soon as they download it, so this number might increase later on. So far, though, the conversion rate is 0.4%, which is not exactly fantastic. I find it easier to get new subscribers on my blog.

The bottom line

Running a free book promotion has some benefits — more readers will become familiar with your work, additional reviews will likely be posted, and new subscribers can be gained. On the other hand, though, one should not expect wonders, or at least not anytime soon.

While the visibility of your free ebook will get a nice boost, you will also never know whether the people who downloaded it for free also cared enough to actually read it. When readers pay for books, it’s more likely that they are truly interested in them.

Also, when something is available at no cost this tends to subconsciously reduce the perception of its value. This could explain why books get worse reviews when they are available for free.

The sales and earnings from my second book on Amazon (ebook + paperback) Source: BookReport

All things considered, though, I’m quite happy with the results of my free ebook offer experiment. Thanks to it, well over 1,000 readers (including the previous sales and free downloads on Draft2Digital) now have my book, and that in less than 5 months since it was published.

I see this as quite a success given that this is only my second book, that it was written for a limited and highly specific audience, and that I’m still a new writer on the block. The results are also great in comparison with my first book — I invested almost no money in its promotion and hasn’t offered it for free. The sales and downloads were thus pretty abysmal.

The sales report below testifies to just how important book promotion is for sales, and how much a free offer helps in raising awareness of the book’s existence. Here are the Amazon sales of my first book that was published a year ago, so that you can compare the results:

The sales and earnings from my first book on Amazon (ebook + paperback) Source: BookReport

By promoting my second book in various ways, I was able to reach ten times more readers than with the first one and increase the earnings threefold.

According to various sources (Smashwords, Derek Murphy, and others), it takes at least five self-published books before one can expect to generate a more substantial income. I’m not there yet but I do see these results as a confirmation that I’m taking the steps in the right direction.


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My book ‘You Self-Published, Now What? How to Promote Your Book’ is now available for preorder.