How to get 1000 new readers every day with a permafree book

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I started publishing fiction this year, and I’m still just getting my feet wet. After the first 3 months in KDP, and after a bunch of work, effort, time and money spent promoting my book launches, I’ve gotten really lazy (in my defense I was finishing my PhD) and I wanted an easier way to reach readers.

This was actually my original plan: to publish 10 “beginnings” of ten different potential story threads I could build into series and put out for free. Instead, I wrote the first halves of complete novels (four so far). I might still get to ten… there’s at least one more I plan to add soon.

But I’m already up to 1000 downloads A DAY with my free books. I have an extra 5,000 or so per month coming from Draft2Digital, which I used to put my books on other platforms.

So that’s about 35,000 new readers, that I’m reaching for free, with no effort or time.

I understand writers don’t like giving away their work for free and don’t see how it will be worth it in the future. I’m still betting that all these free downloads are building fans, followers and subscribers and that this will help me sell a shit ton of books later – but that’s an assumption until I prove it (I’ll share my earnings once I start publishing full books and doing real launches).

But this still beats the hell out of desperate marketing techniques or worrying about nobody buying your books, or wasting time on social media either promoting your book or asking other people how to market your books.

It’s easy, it doesn’t bother anyone, and you can easily write some new short stories to give away and build your platform.

Plus, I’m looking forward to the day (in about 3 years) when I can add “OVER ONE MILLION DOWNLOADS” on all my marketing materials.

But you have to do it right…

Even if you give your books away for free, they still need to stick at the top of your category. There are other free books fighting for attention (though not that many, since few authors are really willing to try this out).

You need an amazing cover, great reviews and an excellent sales description to keep conversion high. Mine is pretty decent, but could actually be better. My free books tend to hang around the 1000 rank.

My paid books were having trouble sticking in the top 10,000 – and once they drop past 20,000 they quickly disappear.

Eventually, I’ll have starter books for free to get people on my list, which will build a fan base and keep my paid books selling enough to keep them visible (or better yet, launch really hard, get a ton of reviews quickly – which I can do because I’m building a big list – and stick in the top 1000 paid for a few months.

Update: Actually, 2000 a day now…. if that keeps up, it’s 720,000 free downloads a year. Zero promotion.

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Doesn’t it “devalue literature?” and train readers to like free books?

I’ve written about this before, again and again and again, but what you produce is only worth what you can convince someone to pay for it. First you have to get it in front of them and make them aware of it, then you have to convince them to buy it.

Art is not a charity, it’s a business.

I give away books because it’s the most effective, cheapest and easiest way to reach readers and get them to take a chance on my writing. If they like my free books and want more, they will pay for my paid books (and even if they don’t, I can use them to get hundreds of book reviews in a few hours, which will sell the books to loads of new people.

I’m not giving away books because I’m desperate. I’m not giving away books because I don’t value my work.

I’m doing it because it’s smart business and I’m serious about making a full time living as a writer.

Sure, you can disagree with me now because it’s unproven (by me personally, though all my clients who have taken the risk and done it right have immediately seen a boost in income). I’m not making millions on Kindle yet. Maybe I never will. Time will tell.

Let’s say I put all my books for sale at 2.99 and rank instantly drops to 500,000 – meaning less than 1 person buys my book a day. I might get 20 sales a month. 20 versus 60,000.

Instead of making $25 books in earnings, I’ll happily give it up to reach 60,000 readers. I would gladly give it up if I was making 10x that. I also love that I’m not spamming social media; email blasting reviewers; posting my promotions on Facebook pages, or any of the other stuff most indie authors do. There’s too much of that shit already. I’m invisible, and yet my free books are in the top 20 of about 10 major categories on Kindle. You can’t buy that kind of visibility.

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More experienced authors are probably right that this random spike is unsustainable – these spikes happen. Most of the downloads are coming from one book – out of four. Maybe some book reviewers mentioned it. The Scarlet Thread, however, has always outperformed the other books, and I made it free over a month ago so it’s not the newness that’s doing it (maybe Amazon sent out  a recommendation email to a bunch of people… but they did that because it’s been going strong for 8 weeks or so).

It will probably drop back down again – but even that is an opportunity (if your rank sinks after a spike, and how quickly it sinks, tells you how good your conversion rate is. If it sinks, everything needs to be better, and tighter. That’s tricky, but it’s a work in progress. If everything is amazing, it shouldn’t sink, it should climb. (However, most authors only have one free book, I plan to have 10 – so even if I “only” get 100 downloads a day per book, that’s still 1000 qualified leads on autopilot).

The other massive benefit of publishing a lot of free books like this, besides free exposure and zero marketing, is because you can test which books will succeed instead of writing a three book series and then starting another one. I wrote a followup post about that, called “minimal viable novel.”

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book editor turned book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors write and publish bestselling books. FREE GUIDE: Sell your work without selling out.