“Give away a year’s worth of work for FREE? Are you crazy?” This is what I would always think to myself when I heard a fellow author suggest making the first book in your series free to bring in new readers. However, I soon discovered it to be one of the best marketing tools I’ve ever used. (And yes, it did take me a year to write my first book. I’ve gotten a little faster since then.)
I fought against making the first book free for years. During that time, I had written and published a total of four books in the series. My marketing pretty much consisted of putting my books in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and the occasional hodgepodge of promo on social media.
Sales were okay, but they were not where I wanted them to be. I needed to do something to get more exposure, grow my brand, and increase my earnings. See, when I first started publishing, I’d made a deal with my husband: Give me five years, and if this author thing isn’t going anywhere, I’ll go back to my regular day job as an accountant.
Yeah, I did not want to do that. I loathe accounting.
So on September 18, 2016, I pulled my books from KU, published them wide on Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play.
Then I squinted my eyes and made the first book in the series free.
Choosing Which Book to Make Free
Let me preface this section by saying that until you have at least four books or more in a series, paying for promotions might get you a temporary increase in sales, but it will quickly take a dive again. How do I know this? Because I tried. I can’t even tell you how much time and money I wasted on marketing when I only had one or two books out before I finally learned my lesson and stopped. If you are a new author, the one piece of advice I hope you listen to is this one: The best marketing you can do right now is to write the next book. Just write the next book. Maybe start building a presence on social media. But really, just write.
Once I had four books out, by mid-2016, I started to concentrate on getting more eyes on my books. Much to my surprise, my fellow authors who kept telling me to use a free first-in-series were absolutely correct. It absolutely did work to bring in new readers. And this was with little to no other marketing except the occasional cheap Facebook ad.
As you can see on this graph from my KDP dashboard, I did a few free promotions after releasing books 1 and 2 and got some decent downloads, but because there were no more books in the series for readers to purchase at that point, the numbers quickly dropped again and readers presumably forgot all about me. I also played around with different price points for book 1 before I made it free because I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that a free book would make me more money in the long run. I tried pricing it at $2.99 (the other books were $4.99), and I even tried $0.99. Neither got me the results I was looking for.
It wasn’t until I made book 1 permafree that I saw a huge spike in downloads and follow-on sales. (The blue sections below represent book 1, and other colors represent subsequent books.)
And as you can see on the next graph (only showing sales of subsequent books), once I had four books out — and especially after I made book 1 permafree — the series sell-through went way up and stayed there for a long time.
After 2016, I started releasing faster, publishing four to five new books a year both in this series and a spinoff series, which continued to grow my follow-on sales. I’ll have a total of 17 books published by the end of this year.
Submitting for a BookBub Featured Deal
Once my book was free, I started submitting it for a Featured Deal on BookBub. I submitted my free first-in-series eight times over the last few years, and also tried with my other books. While I did get a couple of other deals accepted — on a discounted box set and an international-only deal with the first book in a duology (I did a happy dance around my office Every. Single. Time.) — I still couldn’t get that dang free first-in-series accepted.
So, I changed my strategy.
In January of this year, I redid all of my covers and titles to something much more on-brand that would make the genre in-your-face obvious. It was a risk, and the conservative businesswoman inside of me nearly had a panic attack at the cost. But you know what? It was worth every single penny. Not only did the series start getting more attention on its own, but I finally got that elusive Featured Deal!! And yes, I danced. And I might have squealed just a little.
Here is my original cover for the first book on the left, and my new cover (with the new title) on the right:
I also tweaked the description just a little. I don’t know if this had anything to do with it being accepted or not, but I can’t argue with the results!
Preparing for the Promotion
As my book was already permafree, I didn’t have to do anything to change the price, but I did go to each vendor and check. (We all know how one certain vendor loves to change the price of your books with little or no given notice.) However, if you do need to change the price for your Featured Deal, I would suggest doing so a good seven days before your deal, maybe even sooner, just to make sure you have time to deal with any glitches that may happen. I also went to my book page on BookBub and made sure all of my buy links were correct and working.
I also optimized my back matter to promote the next book in the series. I did this with every single book, double-checking the links. Also, the last book in the series points to the first book in another series. To give you an idea, this is what I have at the end of the last chapter:
The Series Continues With A Vampire’s Vengeance.
Keep reading for a sneak peek!
When the reader clicks to the next page, they find this:
Then, I include the first chapter of the next book, followed immediately with my “Also by” page, where I list the links to every one of my books.
Here’s what my Featured Deal looked like!
Another thing I did to help give a boost to the BookBub Featured Deal was stack ads leading up to the deal. For my paranormal romance, here are the promo sites I used:
- Freebooksy – ran this promotion on 2/6/20
- The eReader Cafe – ran this promotion on 2/7/20
- I Love Vampire Novels (ILVN) – ran this promotion on 2/10/20
- Facebook Ads – I ran two ads at $5.00 per day the entire week before my Featured Deal. These ads are still ongoing, and I’ve upped them to about $10.00 a day.
For the stacked ads, Freebooksy had the best results with 1.4K downloads. The eReader Cafe had 448. ILVN had 214.
As for the BookBub Featured Deal, I had amazing results! The deal ran on February 11, 2020. I had over 11K free downloads the day of my Featured Deal on Amazon. Apple had over 1.7K. Kobo had 1.2K. Google and Barnes & Noble both had over 900 downloads. And that was only the first day!
The best part of this deal is that it led to sales. Readers who downloaded the first book for free have been reading through the rest of the series, and the following series, and the one after that. The week before the Featured Deal, I was averaging around 35 sales per day across all vendors. The week after, I averaged hundreds of sales per day across all vendors. And that tail, though it has dropped a little, is still going.
This graph shows downloads of the permafree book on Amazon, with the biggest spike on the day of the Featured Deal:
This graph shows the increase in sales of my other books that occurred on Amazon as a direct result of the free deal:
Overall, I am overwhelmingly happy with these results! And this all came about from making that first book in the series — the one I worked so hard on — free. I no longer think I’m “giving away” my hard work by having a permafree or temporarily free first-in-series.
If you’ve been trying to get a Featured Deal and have been unsuccessful, I feel you. It can be a little disheartening when you keep getting those rejection emails. But you have to trust that the BookBub team knows what they’re doing. They’re not going to waste their time or your money if they don’t think the book will do well. Keep resubmitting, and don’t give up! The results are totally worth it.
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Click to tweet: Authors, not sure if making the first book in your series free will make you more money? This post will convince you. https://bit.ly/2ZqzFB3
Click to tweet: “The week before the @BookBub Featured Deal, I was averaging around 35 sales per day across all vendors. The week after, I averaged hundreds of sales per day across all vendors.” —@LEWilsonAuthor https://bit.ly/2ZqzFB3