Advertising a Free Book

Free, as an advertising strategy for ebooks, has taken a few hits over the years. It isn’t nearly as effective as it used to be. That said, it’s still a great way to ignite sales in a lagging series. My ASHER BENSON books are a great example.

When I released ASH, it bombed. A few months later, when I made the book permafree, the entire series took off. But that was a long time ago. After years of neglect, Asher Benson was in the toilet again (fitting if you know the character), so it was time for some TLC.

Though I’ve taken the first book in my series THE HUNGER off permafree a few months ago, I’ve decided not to do that for Asher Benson. More on my experimentation on The Hunger later. Since, I’m sticking with free for Ash, I needed to buy some advertising to get things moving again.

Before I start dropping some numbers, I should mention my overall strategy of making the first book in a series free. When doing this, you have to rely on the read-through rate of the series to turn a profit. There are things you can do to increase this rate, such as having covers that flow well and outstanding descriptions, but the most important thing is having a killer book that meets reader expectations.

The read-through rate on my The Hunger series is outstanding. It isn’t so great on Asher Benson. The Ash books are vulgar, violent, brutally paced, men’s adventure stories. Most of my audience is female. That’s a problem because it’s often a miss when it comes to reader expectations. Fortunately, people who go on to book 2 usually end up reading the rest of the series. So there is a massive drop off from book 1 to book 2, but readership remains steady to book 3.

To overcome the mediocre carry over from ASH, and manage to turn a profit on the series, I have to giveaway a ton of ebooks. There are three novels, two short stories, and a boxed set that I can sell to people who read and enjoy ASH. Having that many books in the series helps me make my money back too. It would be much more difficult if Ash only had one sequel. Possible, but difficult.

You also need to adjust your expectations for your read-through rate on your books when giving away the first for free. A lot of free readers horde books. They might not get around to reading yours. It isn’t a problem, as long as you don’t expect 75% carryover from your freebie. A lot of authors get low single digits from a free giveaway. As long as you move a lot of copies during your promo, you’ll still generate solid sales.

If you have audiobook versions of your series, you’ll get a slight bump in sales in that format as well. Especially with the free book, because Audible discounts audiobook prices for readers who already own a copy of the ebook.

Another way to make your investment back, though it takes longer, is by increasing the size of your mailing list. Engaged newsletter subscribers are worth their weight in gold. When you giveaway thousands of ebooks, with a link to your newsletter inside each one, your mailing list will grow quite a bit. So even if you don’t make as much money on sequel sales as you want, you can still come out in the black down the road with a bigger subscriber base to hawk your next work to.

One more thing, then we’ll get to the data. You need to make sure you have proper links to the sequels in the FRONT and BACK of your free book. Those links need to be store specific. If your free book is available in iTunes, then you need links pointing to the sequels on iTunes. Same with Google, Kobo, B&N, etc. On Amazon, you’re going to want country specific links. That means your free book in has links to the UK store. US to US, CA to CA, etc.

Don’t freak out. That Amazon part isn’t as bad as it seems. To make this easy, I use smartURL. smartURL lets you put regional links together, into one central, shareable link, that will send users to the correct site. When a UK reader clicks the link they go to Canadian readers go to, and so on. All I do is put the smartURL in my books and they do the rest. It’s free and easy to use. It also allows you to use affiliate links for each store, which can make a little extra money.

For easy book formatting with links, I recommend using either Draft2Digital or Vellum. Both are great.

I’m sure some of you are wondering why I don’t just use a link to my website in the book, which would have all the relevant store links there. Why go through the trouble of directing readers to their store of choice straight from the books?

Because adding even one extra click lowers my read-through rate. Yes, I’ve tested it. Sending readers to my site, rather than the store, eats into my sales. It is what it is.

On to the numbers. I’m going to break down each company I used for advertising, the number of books I gave away, money made on sequel sales, newsletter subscriber count increases, and affiliate cash earned.

For the TLDR crowd, I spent $949 between 1/21/20 and 2/05/20 to giveaway 47,735 copies of ASH as of 2/10/20. That has generated $3,454.58 in sales from the rest of the series in that same time frame. Not too shabby. The sales are still rolling in, though they’re slowing down. Free promos in a series tend to have a long tail, so I should have continuing sales at a decent rate for a few weeks yet. My income should quadruple my ad spend over the next few days.

The money earned from each entry in the series was:

  • ASH (the free novel) made $24.96 in paperback and $360 in audio.
  • The Perfect Crime (a short story) made $64.93 in ebook and $0.60 in audio.
  • Madness made $1586.67 in ebook and paper and $18 in audio.
  • Asher’s War made $989.41 in ebook and paper and $20 in audio.
  • Asher Benson Box Set made $350.63 in ebook.
  • My Amazon Affiliate income was $39.98.

My newsletter added 432 subscribers over the same period.

In order to achieve these results, I used several book advertisers to push ASH. I’ll break down the sites, cost, and results on those days. Unfortunately for the data, but not my bottom line, I had a Bookbub Featured Deal in the middle of this experiment, which skewed the results for several of the other advertisers. I can’t give accurate numbers for Robin Reads, ManyBooks, and BookDoggy. I should also add that my BB deal was in the Action & Adventure genre. I’ve previously run Ash in the Thriller category and had better results. The numbers below are for free downloads of ASH only. All promos were in the Thriller category, except for Bookbub.

Booksends on 1/21/2020 generated 545 total downloads for $75.

  • Amazon – 545
  • Kobo – 0
  • B&N – 0
  • Google – 0
  • Apple – 0
  • Downloads the next day totaled 272.

Freebooksy on 1/23/2020 generated 2715 total downloads for $90.

  • Amazon – 2368
  • Kobo – 59
  • B&N – 26
  • Google – 51
  • Apple – 211
  • Downloads the next day totaled 470.

Bookbub on 1/26/2020 generated 22829 total downloads for $515.

  • Amazon – 16320
  • Kobo – 1896
  • B&N – 232
  • Google – 1321
  • Apple – 3060
  • Downloads the next day totaled 6836, aided by Robin Reads.

Robin Reads on 1/27/2020 generated 6836 total downloads for $70. These totals are severely skewed because of the Bookbub deal the previous day.

  • Amazon – 4449
  • Kobo – 575
  • B&N – 126
  • Google – 266
  • Apple – 1420
  • Downloads the next day totaled 2044, aided by ManyBooks.

ManyBooks on 1/28/2020 generated 2044 total downloads for $39. These totals are severely skewed because of previous Bookbub and Robin Reads deals. They also didn’t give me a promo date until the day the deal was posted on their site.

  • Amazon – 1129
  • Kobo – 122
  • B&N – 102
  • Google – 83
  • Apple – 608
  • Downloads the next day totaled 1612, which are inflated by Robin Reads, Bookbub, and BookDoggy.

BookDoggy on 1/29/2020 generated 1612 total downloads for $18. These totals are severely skewed because of previous the Bookbub, Robin Reads, and Manybooks deals.

  • Amazon – 995
  • Kobo – 102
  • B&N – 64
  • Google – 47
  • Apple – 404
  • Downloads the next day totaled 1024.

The Fussy Librarian on 1/31/2020 generated 1160 total downloads for $41. These numbers are slightly off because of the previous deals, but there is an increase in the totals, so the ad was effective. I just can’t give exact numbers.

  • Amazon – 810
  • Kobo – 71
  • B&N – 50
  • Google – 48
  • Apple – 181
  • Downloads the next three days totaled 2399.

EReader News Today on 2/4/2020 generated 1370 total downloads for $40.

  • Amazon – 1055
  • Kobo – 129
  • B&N – 88
  • Google – 20
  • Apple – 78

BookCave on 2/5/2020 generated 1035 total downloads for $31. These numbers were aided by the Ereader News Today promo the prior day.

  • Amazon – 716
  • Kobo – 132
  • B&N – 68
  • Google – 46
  • Apple – 73
  • Downloads the next day totaled 616.

BookAdrenaline on 2/7/2020 generated 818 total downloads for $25.

  • Amazon – 577
  • Kobo – 106
  • B&N – 79
  • Google – 11
  • Apple – 45
  • Downloads the next three days totaled 1769.

Whew. It took a long time to gather those numbers. I hope it helps some of you. I wish I could have spaced some of the advertising out a bit more, but I was constrained by the availability of the dates.

So do I recommend this? Hell yeah. Any advertising that quadruples your money is amazing. And the sales are still rolling in. I haven’t run an ad on the series in almost two weeks and it’s still generating over $100 a day.

That’s on a series that was dead in the water a month ago. I’ll take it.

If you have any questions, hit me up in the comments.