Indie Authors: “To Free or Not to Free,” that is the question.

Amazon KDP Select Free Days:

Are they Worth It?

Most indie authors remember the general day, month, and/or year when they decided that they wanted to attempt to be an indie author, with a significant number of us not fully knowing what it really meant at the time. Typically, we’d written some or all of a story that we believed to be compelling, and we wanted it to be read by a wide audience. The idea of getting paid for it also sounded really amazing. If you were like me, you put your creation out into the world first and didn’t completely consider everything else needed to actually sell books on the internet. You might have found (ahem also like me) that after friends and family pick up a copy of your book, your potential reader base gets really small, sometimes down to zero.

2018-09-20 13_48_24-Window

For those of us who have experienced it, that first zero month can be tough. Even if you’ve moved on to other WIPs, you probably continue to do some marketing, and you want your debut work to shine. It’s like being a parent who discovers that their first born isn’t the world-peace-ushering angel they were supposed to be. It still hurts and will likely raise a lot of questions:

  • Is the story actually bad?
  • Is the cover professional and relevant enough?
  • Is my book blurb blurby enough? Is it too blurby?
  • How do I advertise on a budget nearing zero?
  • What the hell have I gotten myself into?

Knee jerk reactions might include hitting the unpublish button or running away and letting your first book slowly disappear into oblivion. Yet, for most indie authors, a lack of sales isn’t a reflection of your abilities as a writer. In fact, that jury is still out until enough people have read you (unnerving, isn’t it?). More than likely, it’s a reflection of your ability as a marketer.

Choose Your Own Adventure

In my previous blog, Indie Author and the Journey to Self-Publishing Success, I mentioned that you need to determine your definition of success when you set out to be an indie author. If your goal is simply to hit the publish button on one book and walk away, that’s perfectly acceptable. You’re a published, independent author, and I’m proud of you for what it’s worth. Still, most of us want to sell books, get reads and reviews, interact with other readers and writers, and write still more books. At some point, you should ask yourself…

What’s the Best Way
to Market on my Budget?

As an indie author, it seems that there are as many ways to market a book as there are to write one. Social media, ads, AMS, and paying companies to do it for you. I don’t claim to be an expert on any of them as I’ve only been actively trying various approaches for four to five months now. I’m also on a limited budget like many others. But I recently ran two Amazon Free days through KDP Select that were wildly more successful than I could have ever imagined, and it prompted me to take a step back and assess what the hell happened.


For those who don’t know, enrolling your eBook in KDP Select lets you offer it to Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscribers for free, and you get paid a given rate per page read which ends up being less than a cent per page but it’s still something. KDP Select also allows you to offer discount and FREE days for your eBook directly through the book’s Amazon page. What’s the catch? You have to sign away your eBook sales rights. This means you can’t sell through any other eBook store (Like Google, B&N, Apple, or Kobo). You can offer the digital files of your book for free to others, but you can’t make money off of it anywhere except Amazon. The debate rages on whether the actual benefits of KDP Select outweigh the potential costs. Since Amazon holds some 80 percent of the eBook market (in the US), many indie authors opt for this route regardless. This is what I did.

Book One: Or How I Learned that
Being an Indie Author is Hard

I published my first novel (the first in a series) on September 1, 2017 with essentially no marketing plan outside of a small Facebook group, family, friends, and co-workers. In just over a year, I had distributed (sold and given away) nearly 600 copies including eBooks and paperbacks. A few months back, I started doing a few things that sparked new interest in the book:

  1. Became exponentially more active on social media
    • Connected with readers and writers
      • Found a community that understood me, keeping me sane
    • Went from under 10 follows on Twitter to over 2k
  2. Blogged more
  3. Created a mailing list offering a free eBook copy (using

All of these have helped build a buzz and distribute Book One somewhat, but I still wasn’t seeing the sales or reviews (to drive more sales) that I had hoped for. I tried some ads and Amazon discount days with minimal results in my opinion. So as I finished up Book Two in the series and readied to publish it, it was clear that I needed a big push in interest in Book One or Book Two would likely suffer a similar fate (or worse).

If You Love it, Set it Free

I eyed the Amazon Free Days with disdain. The idea of simply giving away my cherished work – the writing I put sweat, tears, and bits of my soul into – seemed insulting at best and exploitative at worst. My editor had to give me a stern talking to in order to make it clear to me that free readers are better than no readers. Regardless, I still firmly believe everyone deserves to be paid for their work. However, there are certain undeniable realities that come along with providing a commodity in a perpetually saturated market. For indie author, sometimes you have to give a little to get a little. So, with pride fully swallowed, I scheduled two consecutive Amazon Free days on September 10 and 11, with the hopes of creating a buzz around Book One. I was blown away.

Amazon Free Day Results

While I don’t have much to compare it against, it obviously went pretty well given that I achieved and sustained (for two days) Top 5 status in Amazon’s Free section in all three of my categories. This is an earlier screenshot where I was at #6 on the bottom:

KindleFreeListNumber3TopScifiKindleFreeListNumber3(small).png“Enough, D C! How many damn books did you move?”

I knew that’s why you came here! Without further ado:

Day 1: 674 (i.e. more books than I distributed in over a year)

Day 2: 354

Day 3: 8 (two hours)

Total: 1,036

Every time I checked my numbers, I’d moved 10 more book here and 6 more there. It was nuts. Meanwhile, I had set the price of my eBook to revert to $0.99 to take advantage of the buzz afterwards. The ridiculous numbers from the free days definitely dwarf the sales that are coming in now, but combine those sales with the nearly 1K KU pages read so far, and it’s shaping up to be one of my biggest months since releasing the book.

What’s your Secret?

Honestly, I’m not certain. I’m sure others have even more successful Free Days. Since I was not thrilled about the idea to begin, I foolishly waited until the morning of to post a blog on Twitter and Facebook. There were also some IRL things I had to get sorted out that morning, so I had to piecemeal my advertising of it throughout the day. Still, checking back to see large number that continued growing was astonishing. That said, here are my best guesses as to why I had a relatively successful go of it.

  • I had advertised on social media for two months leading up to the free days
    • My followers and many others were familiar with the book and premise
    • I had a combined 2500 followers across all social media
      • I asked them to share, and so many did.
    • I shared it on my personal accounts with another 1500 friends and family
      • Again, more shares. Thanks!
  • I updated my book blurb after reading Bill Aicher’s blog
    • The blurb was boring before, and I made it more appealing to readers.
  • An early rush of downloads put me into the Top 100 in my categories
    • This is free advertising since many people watch these lists to gobble up free books
    • It artificially pushes already successful free books to be more successful
  • The book has a professional cover (and design)
  • It’s Book One in a series with Book Two coming out soon
    • Not exactly when I planned (more on that later)

What Could I have Done Better?

While I’m satisfied with my results, I could have:

  • Scheduled more days
    • Even if the downward trend continued, I was moving an incredible number of books. Another two or three hundred would have been nice.
  • Advertised the Free Days sooner
    • Again, I didn’t make a big push until the day of, and then, I had other things IRL come up. The buzz may have been bigger had I mentioned it the night before or even a few days in advance
  • Built an even bigger social media following leading up to and following the publishing of Book One
    • I didn’t Twitter back then, and it was a big mistake. I’ve gotten pretty good there, and next up is Instagram (HELP!)

So Free Days are Totally Worth it, Right?

Like so many other things, the answer is “it depends”. For me, Free Days increased the distribution of Book One by nearly 200% while revitalizing the interest in it on Kindle Unlimited all the while setting the stage for Book Two. But I also had the aforementioned things to help push my free “sales”. If even 1 percent of the 1,036 books turn into reviews, that’s another 10+ reviews. I’ve actually received 2 reviews since the Free Days, but those could have easily been from readers before. But who knows?

Free Advertising, Not Free Books

In the end, DON’T associate the “Free” in Amazon Free Days with your book because that’s priceless. Instead, think of it as a FREE way to market your book to a small portion of interested readers which will allow you to market to a wider audience later, when you set a price that will put some money into your pocket. I think it’s definitely worth it if you’re writing a series, and Book One isn’t selling. As you know, Book One is the gateway to the rest of the series, and the harder it is for readers to find and open that gate, the less likely they will stay with you over the long haul. For standalone books, the debate rages on whether Free Days are better than other marketing strategies. In the end, I think the success of Free days are heavily influenced by other marketing you might be doing like social media. A big upfront push to get into the Top 100 helps a lot, too. I’d be interested to hear the experiences of other authors.

Thanks for reading! I hope this was helpful.

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