Friday, May 11, 2012

How to Have a Successful Amazon Free E-Book Giveaway

My writing partner, Mary Joy, and I recently had a phenomenal run with a free promotion on Amazon to help push the sales of our mystery novel, On the Road to Death’s Door.  This blog entry is the first of a 3-part series for indie writers whose e-books are for sale on Amazon for downloading to the Kindle.  I am very excited by our success, but feel I learned some things along the way.  And I’d like to pay it forward to help those who are trying to give their indie e-books a push by engaging in a free promotional giveaway of their prized tome.

A Word of Caution About Amazon Promotions

The Amazon Select program for e-book authors is relatively new (as of this writing).  It came into being late last fall and has been evolving ever since.  Apparently Amazon regularly reconfigures the algorithm that helps push a book up on the various best seller lists, and so what worked months ago, or even a week or so ago, may not necessarily work again today.  

Writers should take the advice given here with caution. Pay attention to blogs, Facebook writers groups and the Kindle Boards before plunging into a free giveaway promotion.  That being said, what follows is our experience in April of 2012, and some thoughts for writers to consider.

The Success of On the Road to Death’s Door

During our free book promotion day our book topped out at #13 in the Kindle Free Store on the first day, and hovered in the top 25 the second day.  Both days we were #1 in the Mysteries category for a period of time. 

The day after the promotion, we saw a significant bump in sales and we moved from a rank of #49,848 Best Selling Book in the paid Kindle store the day before the promo to #3,723 by the end of the first day of paid sales following the promo. That was enough of a change in Best Seller status to get us out in front of readers. Within a few days we made it as high as #1,450 Best Selling Book in the paid Kindle store, and into the top 100 for paid Kindle Mysteries. 

Sales have eased up a bit since that first heady weekend, but are quite steady on a day to day basis.

How We Organized the Free Promotional Book Giveaway

We had done a lot of research prior to the promotion, and learned a lot during the event.  We made what I consider to be some strategic errors along the way, and thought others might benefit from knowing ahead of time what we did right and what we did wrong.

We used the KDP Select program and scheduled two days, April 11 & 12, for our giveaway. KDP Select is a program in which the author agrees that Amazon will be the exclusive vendor of the ebook for 90 days. That means withdrawing it from other online stores such as Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. However, joining the Select program does not affect where you can sell paperback versions of the book.  In return for the exclusivity, the writer is given up to five days in which he or she can schedule days to offer the book for free.

It may seem counterintuitive to want to give away any amount of free books, but the fact is that many if not most of the people who will download a book for free likely would never have paid money to purchase it in the first place. 

Secondly, the free downloads affect the book’s ranking in the Amazon system in a positive way, and that in turn will trigger the algorithms that determine whether and how much any individual book is promoted through that ubiquitous “also boughts” feature in the Amazon catalogue. The also boughts are the book’s main method of promotion on Amazon, and have the potential to outweigh many promotional efforts the writer might do on his or her own to push the book.

So…plan to schedule your free giveaway sometime during the 90 days your book is committed to the Amazon Select program.


If you only have one book published on Amazon, wait until you have two books published on Amazon. We did not. Our book went live in late November, we joined Select in late January, and conducted our promotion shortly before our contract time with Select was up in mid-April. The promotion was wildly successful beyond anything we could have imagined. 

We gave away an unbelievable number of books. And we had no ancillary titles to take advantage of the notice our book was receiving. Had we had even one more book available, it would have benefited from the sales bump without ever having to give away any of that title. If we’d had several titles, the campaign would have been a success on many levels.

But, we had only the one book. A waste of 15,000 plus giveaways in my estimation.

But, if you are determined to schedule your free promotion, or you have more than one book and are ready to schedule it, in order for this event to have the desired effect, you will need to do a fair amount of targeted promotion—you need to let people know that your book is available for free download.


Think long and hard about how long you wish to schedule your book for the free giveaway.  The best advice I had received was that you should go for at least two days, and to be prepared to extend it for another one or two days if you rise high in the rankings, but hadn’t yet quite reached that sweet #100 or better spot.

My advice: schedule your free promotion for only one day, and be prepared to extend it from there if you need it. I wish we had only scheduled and advertised for one day. We gave away an ungodly amount of  e-books by the end of the first day, and had reached #13 in the free Kindle store ranks. I was ready to stop. But I had committed to two days at the blogs and websites that were advertising for us. 

Could I have stopped the promotion at the end of the first day? Yes, of course. Amazon doesn’t care how long you do it (up to five days).  But websites that will help to promote your paid sales in the future do care. If their followers click on your “free” book only to find it isn’t free anymore, that reflects badly on the website. And they make it clear that they will refuse any future promotion on your behalf if you skunk them. Should I have cared? Maybe not.  But I am a person who believes in fulfilling commitments, especially when people do something to help out for free.

DISCLAIMER: I cannot promise that the success we experienced with our book will happen to you and your book, even if you follow all my advice and how-to’s. For one thing, genre likely plays a huge part in the success of any given book. As does the look of the cover and phases of the moon, for all I know.

Which brings us to my THIRD BIG PIECE OF ADVICE! 

Invest in a book cover that really rocks, and defines your genre. To be honest, I didn’t know how good our cover was (still don’t). It was designed by my son (who is a really good graphic artist), so I see it through a mother’s lens. However, if you go to any website that promotes free Kindle books, you will see rows and rows of book covers. How do people choose which ones to click on to read the synopsis? By the cover. Duh! At least, that’s how I choose a book. I see an interesting cover among the many on the page and click on it to read the blurb. How do you do it? 

Note: along with an imagination-catching cover, you need a blurb (synopsis) that engages the reader. Write a blurb that causes people to want to read your story.

Where to Advertise Your Free Book Promotion

You can have a potentially successful free book promotion if you target three main venues for letting people know about your event: websites and blogs that feature free Kindle books, Twitter, and Facebook.

For more specific information about those promotional venues, check out the next installment of this blog: How & Where to Advertise Your Free E-book Promotion or go right to the last installment: What To Do To Increase Sales After a Free E-book Promotion. 


  1. Thanks Peggy for those valuable pieces of information. I decided to divide my paper book into two seperate ebooks.

    So now I have 1 paperback and 2 eBooks ready for the world to enjoy!
    eBook 1 will be used as a freebie on the 90 day Amazon kdp program.
    Readers will hopefully be enticed to purchase eBook 2.
    This was my strategy from the beginning and when the book is published in June the fun will begin
    Best Regards


  2. This sounds like an excellent strategy. Best of luck with your promotion!

  3. I am very excited by our success, but feel I learned some things along the way. And I’d like to pay it forward to help those who are trying to give their indie e-books a push by engaging in a free promotional giveaway of their prized tome. cheap advertising

  4. I would also suggest submitting your book to all sites listed @ Http://

    That will increase book's exposure