3 S.R. Johannes: Can free books help your sales?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Can free books help your sales?

First - here are a few updates/winners of a few contests I am behind on:

1) Mundie Moms Pinterest contest for Untraceable/Uncontrollable is still going on until 10/16. Huge Nature of Grace package is at stack.

2) The winner of my Nature of Grace contest for helping spread the word is Daisy at daisykr_99@yahoo.com . I will email you!

3) The winner of the 20 ebook giveaway last month - is Susan Sowers Light at books4susie@aol.com. I will email you!

Free ebook experiment

So 2 weeks before I put Uncontrollable out, I decided to put Untraceable free for 2 weeks. This takes some effort and adjusting since Amazon doesn't allow free pricing. My thinking? Maybe if I open up the readership more, it will drive up interest for Uncontrollable.

Many thought I was crazy for giving Untraceable away for free. Some thought it was a mistake, afraid it would cheapen my book. And I must admit, the thought of my book being free was horrible. My book is worth more than free. I've seen some of the books on free and I felt my value justified a higher price. But I kept telling myself it was an experiment. It was only 2 weeks. (a long 2 weeks).

This is what I tell people about marketing - sometimes you have to experiment and see what works for you. I have a couple other experiments going on so I'll update on those when I can.

So here is how it went:


  • Over 65,000 downloads on Amazon! (my goal was 25,000 so you can imagine my surpriseI was #2 in all Amazon ebooks on the free list
  • Over 40,000 downloads on Apple. I was #2 in all ibooks on free list just under the Ipad user guide
  • Under 1,000 on Kobo/Smashwords/Other combined

That's over 100,000 people that have my book in a queue. If I get a 10% conversion rate (which is high) that could be 10,000 in potential sales for Uncontrollable.

Aftermath (week after untraceable went free and uncontrollable was launched)

  • Over 500 reviews on Apple (I had about 20 to begin with)
  • about 100 emails in last week asking about the series
  • 400 downloads for Unspeakable (free short story in the series)
  • increase in sales of my other books
  • 1600 sales for Uncontrollable (actual monetary sales in a week)
  • 1200 for Untraceable (actual monetary sales in a week) - securing my 10,000 in sales in one year goal.
  • This was my biggest week in sales and money yet since I published 9 months ago.


  • 100,000 downloads I didn't make money on :( I wish!
  • My first 1 star review on Amazon (and it is a doosey ;) - I consider this a battle scar to be proud of.
  • Question of "does going free diminish the value of my book?"
  • Pissing off people who paid.
  • It doesn't work for everyone or every book. Some of it is pure luck of the draw.
  • It takes time to contact all the sites and they don't always pick it up.
  • There are thousands of books that are free so it's hard to stand out.

Lessons learned
Now, tons of people put their books for free and don't get this many downloads. Here are some tips.

  • Have a good cover!! Get people who don't know you to look at it. It's amazing how many self pubbed authors really think their covers are good but they are not. If your book is not selling, chances are it's your cover.
  • Let ebook sites know. There are many sites that post about free ebooks to their readers. I had 20,000 downloads just in the first day I submitted/contracted to about 30 ebook sites sales.
  • Keep it short term. Going free is a good SHORT term marketing technique where you set an end in mind. Unless you have a longer series out (over 3 books) and then maybe the first book for free would bleed into your others.
  • Upload directly. Make sure you upload to Apple and Kobo yourself. This gives you the freedom to control your pricing. Amazon price matches so if anyone has it free. If you are only on Smashwords, you cannot control when the price gets distributed to the sites. 
Here are some other articles that discuss advantages and disadvantages of going free. 



Lauren said...

Sorry to hear about your one star review :(. But you have 500 reviews. That means there are 499 sane people out there :) Good luck and congrats!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Sounds like in many ways it was a really great experiment. Thanks for sharing the results.

Jemi Fraser said...

Wow - those are great numbers!! I have a few good blog friends who've done the 'first book free' experiment and it works well. I'm considering self pubbing in the new year & am thinking of going that route. If I do, I want to have a few books ready to go so that the free one is a direct link to at least two more. Thanks for letting us see how it worked for you!

Mrs. Jones said...

This is an awesome post!
I agree that it can be a great SHORT term marketing tool, just to boost and jump start some sales!

I'm happy for you that your numbers were so high!

Kelly Polark said...

Wow! Very informative post! Thank you so much for sharing all of this (somewhat personal) info with us.
And HUGE congrats on 10,000 sales!!!!!

Anna Staniszewski said...

Fascinating stuff! Thanks so much for sharing. Glad things are working out so well!

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Those are fantastic numbers, Shelli! Congratulations... As someone who paid for Untraceable, it doesn't bother me at all that you offered it for free. I'm pleased that so many people are being introduced to your writing.

Unknown said...

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Shelli (srjohannes) said...

Thank you all for the well wishes!

Unknown said...

I think that can help drive sales; I've seen some long island advertising firms do it for certain items, and it works.