give your book away for free

Give Your Book Away for Free?

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Should you give your book away for free?

Ah, the big question.

I received yet another email yesterday from a nice person asking this very question. They have two (almost three) self-published novels for sale on Amazon, and the question was phrased as, “I don’t understand why I would give my book away for free, since it doesn’t generate a lot of sales.”

My reaction is always the same: I get it. You don’t always want to give your book away for free, even if you know readers will like that.

But that doesn’t at all change my stance.

If you’re a self-published author, or even just a creator of “stuff” — art, music, photography, whatever — this post is written to you.

There are plenty of opinions on the subject of whether you should give your book away for free or not, so you’re welcome to disagree. Actually I welcome it — I’m sure I haven’t considered all sides of the debate. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post to weigh in! As for my thoughts:

Give Your Book Away for Free: Not Just About Sales

It’s not even about generating newsletter signups, website visits, etc.

If you are wondering whether or not you should give your book away for free — at least when you’re a new author (and I call anyone who’s not selling in droves in grocery stores a “new” author) — is about beating obscurity.

If you don’t have readers, you don’t exist. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but I’m not one to sugarcoat things. Only by offering something of value (in this case, a free book) to people who might enjoy it can you really build readership and earn fans and followers.

Still not tracking with me?

JA Konrath, of “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” fame (and also someone who makes around $100,000 a month selling books), is a huge proponent of the freebie game (and ebook piracy, for that matter). He regularly uses sites like to link to his “free” days on Amazon from the popular ebook deal email list, and has had some success with it.

However you feel, know this: I’m more likely to read your book if you give your book away for free.

That doesn’t guarantee that I’ll read it, but one of the main obstacles to reading it — price — is completely removed when you give your book away for free.

And I believe it’s this truth that can be expanded to “anyone who reads ebooks.”

Kindle’s not the only way. 

I’m a fan of Amazon’s KDP Select program, but it’s not the only one out there. Smashwords allows you to give your book away for free for an unlimited period of time, as well as offer discounts and coupons. Web-savvy folks could of course sell (or give away) their books directly from their site without even needing to go through one of the big companies.

But the point of giving your book away for free isn’t really to just offer it for free — it’s to offer to give your book away for free to as many people as possible at once. Again, you’re fighting obscurity, and that means you need to be in front of as many eyes as possible; preferably eyes that belong to people who’d love to read your work.

On Amazon, you have the option of running a free promotion for 5 days during a 90-day period. You could do one day at a time, waiting a week between each “free day,” or you could run them all at once.

In my experience, running them all at once is the way to go — it gives your book longer to climb up the “Top Free” lists at Amazon (which helps translate into more paid sales after the promotion is over), and that means that your book will be in front of even more people.

By adding in things like BookBub, BookGorilla, and other promotions, you’re just adding proverbial fuel to the fire.

There’s a caveat. 

Here’s the catch, though: if you’re directing all of this traffic to your free book on Amazon, and then scads of people are downloading it (and hopefully reading it), are you doing everything possible to push that promotion to your favor?

  • Are you including a “please review this book” message at the end of your book?
  • Are you inviting them to sign up to your mailing list to be informed when your next book drops?
  • Are you including clickable links to your other books in your Kindle book’s pages?

All of these things are technically easy to set up, and will help solidify your promotion as a successful campaign. You don’t have to do these things, but the cost is virtually zero to set them up, and they can only help keep people clicking around your network for a longer period of time.

If you really want to step it up, consider offering a “perma-free” book by setting the price at $0 over at Smashwords, and then letting Amazon find it and match the price. You’ll now have a book that defies Amazon’s “rules” (though you’r really not doing anything wrong since Amazon states that it automatically will try to beat the lowest found price anyway), letting you capitalize on extended runs on the “Top Free” lists.

If you choose to give your book away for free, the best option is to do it when you have multiple books listed on Amazon, so that your free promotion will translate into sales for your other book(s). Either way, your “perma-free” will generate downloads, and the above three calls-to-action will help drive people to your email lists, write reviews, and check out what else you have to offer.


Consider all sides when you’re in the self-publishing game. If you’re only in it for the money, you might argue that you’re “losing” sales by offering to give your book away for free — but here’s the deal: unless you already have a huge network of followers, readers, and fans, you’re starting out swimming upstream in a very crowded river. The best you can do for yourself is to plan ahead:

Fight obscurity, break through, and make sales down the road by offering a fan-generating “freebie” today. Give your book away for free and see what happens!

What do you think? Should you give your book away for free? Am I missing anything?

Let me have it — just leave a comment below!

Nick ThackerGive Your Book Away for Free?
  • lara

    Once in New York City I asked a well known “Yogi ” why he charged people to hear his lectures. I never forget his reponse ‘If it’s free they think it’s not worthy.” Lesson learned. lol.

    • Do you think that’s true with books? “If it’s free they think it’s not worthy…?”

    • Do you think that’s true with books? “If it’s free they think it’s not worthy…?”

  • I think you are SPOT-ON and plan to use your suggestions. I have written a book about Internet dating (non-fiction). It is in the formatting stages with CreateSpace. I am in my golden years and seriously struggling with computers so am not..not intend to be on the multiple social-media sites, although am considering a Blog??? I am planning a great book-signing party around the holidays for all my friends, family, passer-bys, etc. I will give each a copy of my book, asking that they pay-it-forward and write a review. I am thinking of asking each to dress in their favorite “dating” outfit.
    Short of being made into a movie, I doubt I will ever see a profit..which wasn’t the reason for publishing.
    Enjoyed your thoughts.
    Jackie B/Nurse Heartburn.

    • Hi Nurse Heartburn (cool name!) – send me an email; I’d be happy to chat about some of this stuff.

  • When it comes to print, I have given away over 13,000 copies of my books. But I give my books only to people I want to give to. If someone asks me for a free copy, I will certainly not give it to them (unless they are with the media).

    But when it comes to ebooks I will not give any of my ebooks for free. I will also never price any of my books at 99 cents. This would cheapen what I have to offer. In general, these quotes apply:

    “People that pay for things never complain.
    It’s the guy you give something to that you can’t please.”
    — Will Rogers

    “When your product or your service doesn’t measure up, the answer probably isn’t to lower your price or
    offer a refund to the disappointed customer. Instead, the alternative is to invest in making it
    better. So much better that people can’t help but talk about it—and so much better that they
    would truly miss it if it were gone.
    — Will Rogers

    I normally shun any book marketing strategy that is in vogue. The only way to know anything definitely about success when it comes to book marketing is to attain it for yourself by yourself — anything less is hypothesis, idle talk, and folklore.

    I have at least 50 to 100 original creative techniques that I have used over the years to sell over 850,000 copies of my books (mainly self-published). I have used similar unique techniques to get 111 books deals with foreign publishers. My books are now published in 22 languages in 29 different countries. I have accomplished this without using a North American foreign rights agent.

    When it comes to creative marketing. I like this quip by an author whose nickname is “The Name Tag Guy”:

    “I once saw my book for sale on Ebay. For two dollars. (sniff) So, do you know what I did? I bid $250 on it. Then bought it. That’s marketing baby!”
    — Scott Ginsberg (The Name Tag Guy)

    I suggest that authors who want to be much more successful than 99 percent of authors (like I am) go against conventional wisdom. That’s what I do. I don’t use social media or blogs anymore since all my own techniques are much more effective. As Scott Ginsberg says, “That’s marketing baby.”

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Thanks for the comment, Ernie!

      “I have at least 50 to 100 original creative techniques that I have used over the years to sell over 850,000 copies of my books”

      Care to enlighten us as to what these techniques are?

  • Trace Conger

    I think the key is the back list. If you offer one book for free, it entices readers (who have yet to discover you) to take a chance on your work. If they like it (for free) there’s a chance they will pick up more of your work for the full cost. In this light, it’s a solid strategy. I think it’s gets a bit tricker, if you only have one title that you’re giving away.

    Nick, what are your thoughts on Amazon’s “countdown” promotion? I’m struggling with which promotion would be better given that I only have a single title on Amazon. Thoughts?

    • StephenVernon

      I’d likewise be VERY interested in hearing what Nick has to say about the Countdown Promotion.

      I’ve tried it and had very poor results – but I am pretty that I wasn’t using the promotion effectively and I am pretty sure that Nick knows a heck of a lot more about promotion than I do.

  • StephenVernon

    I’ve given away close to 3000 freebie Kindle e-books since the beginning of September.

    So is that paying off? Am I making money, hand over fist, as a result of my “masterful” e-book strategy?

    Well I don’t know about that – but I am making more this month than I did last month – and I made more in September than I made in August. There has been a definite improvement and I believe that some of that improvement stems directly from the visibility generated by my freebie promotions.

    In addition to the higher sales rate I have seen a solid influx of reviews.

    A whopping TWENTY-TWO new Kindle reviews since September 1, 2014, most of them unsolicited and VERY positive.

    I can’t tell you just how many review requests I would have had to send out to generate that many reviews in a month and a bit.

    I have also seen an increase in the “borrows” through the Kindle Unlimited program.

    You have to understand that I just got into the Kindle Unlimited program this September – so this part of the game is very new to me but between September and October my borrows have DOUBLED!

    Now I know that some folks likewise feel that the KU program is cannibalizing sales at the expense of borrows – but as far as I am concerned those sales are nothing more than theoretical. It is quite possible that everyone of my KU borrows WOULD have bought a copy of my e-book if they couldn’t have borrowed it on KU – but more as likely they wouldn’t have even heard of my e-book.

    The way I see it is this – freebies are nothing more than a handful of punky tinder and kindling (no pun intended) that you will set your campfire with.

    You wouldn’t want to try and build a campfire ONLY out of kindling. That would flare up and fade away. But you definitely need that sort of a quick flash of combustion to get things started.

    That’s my two bits worth, anyway.

    yours in storytelling,
    Steve Vernon

    • Hi Steve! Thanks for sharing — glad you had some success with your campaign!

  • D.D.

    If you are a new author, I suggest joining KDP Select Program and doing a give away. Buy a few ads on places like Digital Books Today or pay about $45 to a site that will send your free ebook notice out to 40-50 ebook blog sites. Bookbub is the best, BUT it is VERY expensive and hard to get on if you have no or few reviews. The reason you give books away free in the beginning is in hopes readers will like your book and give you reviews. The more reviews you get, the greater the chance the good blogs will pick up your book, and you’ll get the more sales. Also, you want to get readers to start a word of mouth campaign for how great your book is. NEVER respond to a review (bad or good). But answer all emails from readers who contact you to say how much they liked your book. I followed this strategy and now have almost 700 reviews with 85% 4 & 5 stars. Have sold over 200,000 copies of the ebook alone. Been approached by an muti-Emmy award winning producer to do an audio book version, and have stayed in Amazon’s top one-half of top 1% for two years. Have made enough $$ to stay home as a full time writer. Now I do one free giveaway per year and do Kindle Countdowns, which seem to be working so far. The key is to never stop marketing, network with other authors to get and share tips and information, and do your research. Most of all, write a great book and make sure the editing is correct and the cover looks great in a thumbprint size (because that’s how potential readers usually first see your cover) Remember: Writing your book is about ART. Selling your book is about MARKETING.

    • Great stuff, thanks for the comment! I agree: BookBub has worked for me numerous times, and it seems to still be the best way to go for buying ads.

  • Nick, thanks for the very interesting article. We are a new author in every sense of the word – working on our first book, no prior experience with the publishing industry – so we are lapping up any advice or perspectives we can get. (I say “we” because we are co-authors, and Áine Cole is our pen name.)

    My question for you is this: what are your thoughts about giving books (or excerpts) away for free when you aren’t even to the self-publishing stage? Or if you are in the process of building a platform and following in the hope of seeking a traditional publisher in the future?

    Looking forward to your thoughts,
    Áine Cole