Joe Konrath did it but he wasn’t the first one. Seth Godin did it back in 2000 and he probably wasn’t the first either. Godin gave away a PDF copy of his book, Unleashing the Ideavirus, for free, and tens of thousands of copies were downloaded. Today, it’s hailed as the most downloaded e-book in history.
Joe Konrath was a mid-list author of thrillers who left traditional publishing and began self-publishing his own backlist a few years ago. Konrath has done very well for himself. He’s been giving away his e-books for limited periods of time for the last couple of years. The idea is that you give away one book in a series and readers pay for the other books. It worked out very well for him. Today he’s one of Amazon’s top performers, selling thousands of e-books each month, and it all started when he gave it away for free.
Kindle Direct Publishing Select is a division of Amazon that’s open to traditionally published or independent (indie) authors. In order to qualify for KDP you need to commit your e-book to a 90-day enrollment period during which Amazon allows you to run a free promotion for up to five days. During those five days you can Facebook and tweet your heart out spreading the word. There are thousands of free e-books available every day on Amazon’s website. The authors running the promotions want you to take their book, read it, and look at their other works. Additionally, once it leaves the free cycle and goes back to being a paid book it enters into Amazon’s popularity lists. These lists are golden. This is where readers search for their next e-book. The higher you’ve gained in the free rankings during your promotion, the higher you’ll rank on the paid popularity lists. Plus, Amazon will promote you in other ways for the few days after your promotion ends, and again, the more books you give away, the more push they’ll give you.
Self-published authors who’ve been rejected by traditional publishers and feel there are readers who’ll read their e-books are jumping at the opportunity KDP is offering. There are a multitude of websites that advertise free e-books, but the two big players are Pixel of Ink and Ereader News Today. If you’re a self-published author running a free promo, it’s imperative that you’re featured on these sites. They’ll showcase you and notify their thousands of subscribers, and they’ll do it for free. Unfortunately they can’t feature everybody. So, you need to have a fairly high ranking in terms of customer reviews. Their specific requirements are slightly different, but 4.2 out of five stars is the average criteria. So, on any given day, there are thousands of indie authors clamouring to be showcased on POI or ENT while begging their Facebook friends to share the link to their free book, plus tweeting on Twitter to their followers.
Does it work for every book that’s given away? No, it doesn’t, but it did work for me. After receiving 130 rejection letters from traditional publishers, I self-published my novel, My Temporary Life, and enrolled it in KDP Select. In February, I ran a three-day free promotion and the book I wrote in the spare bedroom of my house was downloaded over 50,000 times. It hit number one on Amazon’s free bestseller list, and was the most downloaded book in North America for one day. In the days after my free promotion, My Temporary Life was downloaded 15,000 times, and it continues to sell well today, months later, and it all started by giving it away for free.
Martin Crosbie is the self-published author of the novel My Temporary Life.