Why Free Was For Me
Written by
Stephanie Haddad
January 2012
Written by
Stephanie Haddad
January 2012

A little over a month ago, I made my novel, A Previous Engagement, free as an ebook. (Paperbacks aren’t free, sorry…LOL). You can download it just about anywhere: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, and iTunes. It was a risky move, just giving away my work, but it was one I felt I needed to make.

See, to be totally honest, before I made that novel free to download, sales weren’t going so great for me. I’d hand-sold about 100 paperback copies (of my two titles combined) and only about 30 of the ebooks. Sure, that’s a great start for an independent self-pubbed author like myself, but I knew I could be in better shape.  After all, A Previous Engagement had been out for about five months in December and I hadn’t reached anywhere near the audience I knew I could. Ads, giveaways, and guest blogs were helping, but barely. And with a second title WAY under-performing the first after two months out, I was heading downhill. My self-publishing career was costing me more than it was earning me.

That’s when I knew it was time to take matters into my own hands.

I thought long and hard, made lots of lists, and consulted some of my friends in the Indie Author Group on Facebook. In the end, it was their advice that really got me leaning towards making one of my titles free. Many had shared their stories with me, especially how a free ebook had helped them to gain exposure, reach new readers, and ultimately, resulted in more sales of their other titles.  With two books out, I knew making one free could help me sell the other. And since I plan to publish three more novels in 2012, I hoped reaching new readership would have a domino effect on all my titles’ sales.

So I did it. On December 9, 2011, one month ago today, I made A Previous Engagement free and lowered the price of Love Unlisted to just 99-cents. That was a big jump from my asking price of $2.99 for each title. I was risking quite a bit of potential profit, but I knew from experience in retail that you’ll sell more volume at a lower price. In the end, provided you reach as many new customers as you hoped, your sales dollars will be greater when selling at the lower price. But you’re not reading this for a basic consumerism lesson, you want to know what happened…

Well, a few things happened. First of all, I hit 1000 downloads of my free title in about 9 days. Today, one month later, I’m closing in quickly on 5,000 downloads. I’m averaging about 150-200 downloads every single day, and they’re coming from all outlets, iTunes especially. Here’s some other fun facts about what a free book will do for an indie author’s reach:

  • I’ve gathered over 500 ratings and about 30 reviews on iTunes for my free title.
  • And about 20 ratings for my second novel.
  • I reached the #4 spot on the top free downloads for contemporary romance novels on iTunes.
  • The was listed on several popular sites as a free title, reaching lots of new readers. Check out GetFreeEbooks.com for one example.
  • I’ve gathered over 50 reviews on Barnes & Noble (2 for Love Unlisted so far.)
  • My sales of Love Unlisted were multiplied 100 times over. I sold 4 copies in November, compared to nearly 400 copies in December alone!
  • I’ve added about 20 new fans to my Facebook page!
  • My blog went from averaging 8 hits per day to averaging over 40 hits per day!

So while it’s early days still, and I have new titles to publish and promote, I have to say that the first results of this freebie experiment are all positive. Not every rating is a 5-star one, not every review is glowing, but the point is that people are reading. And when they like what they read, they’re buying my next book. I’m not going to be a millionaire any time soon, but I’m just happy my books are being read.

At the end of the day, isn’t that why we write our books anyway?

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  • Joanne Barney

    Stephanie, this is a real success story!   I am told that fantasy and romance novels, once discovered, can achieve terrific sales, as yours has.  Do you think this strategy would work for a contemporary women's novel about four older women who deal with the Alzheimer's disease of one of them, the theme being friendship, aging, suicide?  There's a little sex, of course, but only as the reader learns about their lives from college days on.  Getting this e-book marketed as just as difficult as writing it.  JO

  • Nora Barry

    I'm also a supporter of free downloads for promotional purposes.  I made my book available for free for 5 days in December and it was downloaded more than 1,700 times.  It actually ended up driving sales after the promotion ended, including loans as part of the Amazon lending library, and helped accrue book reviews