Using “Free” as a Marketing Tool

Dear Reader,

This guest post is brought to you by fantasy author Lindsay Buroker. You can visit her e-publishing blog for more information on internet marketing, search engine optimization, and online advertising, as it relates to marketing one’s books. She’s a new author, but she’s been making a living online for nearly a decade now.

Can Giving Away a Free Ebook Help Sell Your Other Work?

Whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, you’re most likely on your own for marketing. It’s hard getting noticed in the beginning, too. I’m a new ebook author myself, so I know all about it!

I’ve seen some debate when it comes to giving free ebooks away. Is it a way to create interest and possibly sell your other works? Or is it a waste of time?

Numerous people argue, surprisingly vehemently, that folks who hurry to grab freebies aren’t interested in paying for anything–ever. (And they probably still go to their parents’ houses to have mom handle the laundry, too!). I’ve seen fewer folks tote the benefits of giving away a free ebook, but I decided to try for myself. I figured it couldn’t hurt, and it might help.

As I write this, it’s been about two weeks since I released a fantasy short story as a free ebook at Smashwords and Feedbooks. It’s had more than a thousand downloads.

I chose to use the same main characters as were starring in the novel I had coming out a few days later (one I charge for). At the end of the free ebook, I included an excerpt from that story. I also included a link to the novel’s page at Smashwords with a not-so-subtle hint that readers who enjoyed the free adventure might like to purchase the longer piece.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that this flooded my inbox with oh-my-gosh-someone-bought-your-book notifications, but I believe it is what led to my first few sales at Smashwords. I’ve heard authors say they sell twenty books at Amazon for every one at Smashwords (since it’s a much smaller marketplace). I’m well above that ratio right now,  even though I’ve worked harder at promoting my Amazon link. I’m positive my free ebook is what’s been responsible for those Smashwords sales.

It’s early in the process, too, and I’m assuming folks will continue to discover the freebie in the months and years to come. I’m hoping it can continue to be a marketing tool for me. (Especially when Smashwords, which doubles as a distributor, gets it out to Barnes & Noble and other retail sites that accept free ebooks but don’t let you upload them directly.) 

If you think you’d like to try releasing a free ebook of your own, here are a few suggestions:

Make your free ebook Book 1 in a series or try using the same characters that star in your other works

I don’t have enough novels written yet to release a free “Book 1” as the entry point into a multi-ebook series, or I’d definitely try that. Smashwords fantasy author Brian S. Pratt made well over $100,000 from his ebooks last year, and he gave the first one away free while charging for the rest. I don’t know if his first novel ends in a cliffhanger or not, but it sounds like a good way to get people to go on and buy more in the series!

Since I couldn’t do that, I used a short story I had sitting on my hard drive, collecting virtual dust. It’s a fun little fantasy adventure that stands alone, but I also hope it leaves readers wondering about the characters. How did such an unlikely pair get together? Why are they wanted by the law? Etc, etc. etc. These questions are of course answered in the novel.

I suspect putting out a free ebook that’s unrelated to your other titles would be the least likely to help with sales, but I’d be happy to be proven incorrect.

Upload your ebook in a number of places

Once you’ve chosen your freebie, it’s time to get it out there to the world. The great thing about free ebooks is there are numerous websites that accept them. As I mentioned, I started with Feedbooks and Smashwords, but others I’m checking out are Fictionwise, Scribd, and the Bit Torrent network. (If you have any others you’d recommend, please mention them in the comments.)

Make sure to let readers know where to buy your non-free ebooks!

Most e-readers let you click on links in the ebook itself, so don’t be shy about including a link to your author page and/or a sales page for a related book. The whole point here is to market your other work, so be sure to tuck in those details. You may want to try including an excerpt as well.

What do you guys think? Is a free ebook a good marketing tool?

8 thoughts on “Using “Free” as a Marketing Tool

    1. Yes, I thought so as well. I have a number of short stories and poems that I have on Scribd for free reading… but I now I'm thinking I should also have the works available on other websites like the ones Lindsay mentioned. Thanks for commenting!

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  1. Hi Belinda, work has been crazy so I haven't even started to participate in R.O.W. but it looks like you're making progress!

    Congratulations–you've won the Stylish Blogger Award! Check out my blog for details.

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  2. I posted my first novella on PublicBookshelf.com where folks can read books for free. With all positive comments received, I’ve published on Amazon and Smashwords (one sale with no promotion yet). I’m halfway through my second novella and have a non-fiction book almost ready to upload. There’s no life like it – seeing your words in print and knowing readers are enjoying them!
    Thanks, Belinda.

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