How to Sell More E-books
Giving away e-books can boost sales for indie authors
B; M;;; C;;;;
Mark Coker is the founder of Smashwords.
Do you want to sell morebooks and increase the value of your author brand? Then give some of your e-books away for free. To many authors, the idea of
giving their work away for free is counterintui-tive—and possibly abhorrent and sacrilegious. Free
devalues your work, right?
Wrong. Free makes your work more valuable. As
an author, you are a brand. Readers buy books from
authors who have earned their trust. But to earn
readers’ trust, you must first earn their awareness. If readers
don’t know you, they can’t trust you—your brand carries no
value to them. You’re invisible. Even if you’re already a New
York Times bestseller, there are millions of potential readers out
there who have never heard of you and have never read your stuff.
Free makes it possible to reach new readers who would otherwise never take a chance on you. Free enables readers to sample
and discover new authors without financial risk.
According to the 2015 Smashwords Survey, free e-books get
41 times more downloads on average than other e-books. This
is the power of free. Free drives sampling and discovery.
It’s like trying a free sample of cheese at the grocery store.
You try it because it’s free and you like cheese. Once you taste
something you love, you want more of it. Some percentage of
the tasters become paying customers. Unlike with sample bites
of food, readers must sample your entire book to appreciate the
full flavor of your luscious literary genius. Partial samples are
inadequate. Give them a free meal and then hook them with
your awesome sauce.
Free works especially well for series
starters. At Smashwords, we found
that series in which the first book is
free earn authors about 67% more
income on average than other series.
One of the early indie pioneers of
free series starters was Brian S. Pratt,
a Smashwords author who writes epic
fantasy. In 2009, he offered The
Unsuspecting Mage, book one in his
seven-book Morcyth Saga series, for
free. The series starter is over 140,000
words, and by the time many of his readers finished
it, they were hooked. Some loved Brian’s writing
so much that they bought the next six books in the
series, sight unseen, for $5.95 each. That’s trust.
By offering his series starter for free, Brian made
his writing more discoverable, more accessible,
more desirable, and more valuable to readers.
Despite the proven power of free series starters,
few traditional publishers take advantage of the
idea. This means that, for the time being at least,
the power of free is the sole domain of indie authors.
Exploit this advantage while you have it.
Free is no guarantee of bestsellerdom. There’s a glut of high-quality free books. At Smashwords alone, we‘ve published
more than 60,000 free books. The competition for reader eyeballs is fierce.
Free works best in the hands of a skilled writer. Your freebie
must be a super-awesome book. Good is not good enough. A
mediocre freebie will drive no more conversions to paid readers
than a sample of rancid cheese will motivate a grocery store
purchase. Longer freebies work better than shorter freebies
because the longer the book, the more trust-building time the
reader spends immersed in your writing.
Free can work well for standalone titles, too, because once you
earn the reader’s awareness and love, they’ll seek out your other
books. And, even if you’ll only ever publish one book, free can
still work as a temporary promotional tool to ramp up readership,
generate word of mouth, and establish your first retailer reviews.
All major e-book retailers allow free e-books. Amazon supports free but with caveats. If you’re in its KDP Select program,
which requires exclusivity (boo, hiss!), you can only offer your
e-book for free for up to five days per quarter. But this isn’t
enough time to gain the full advantage of free.
To make free work, you want permafree, meaning that your
book is free for weeks, months, or years. The best way to do this
at Amazon is to opt out of KDP Select, distribute the book
everywhere for free, and wait for the Amazon bots to
Free deserves a spot in your best-practices toolkit. Give it
a try! ;