When is FREE not free? Answer – when you do a Free book promotion.

Pete Barber
Pete Barber

Guest post
by Pete Barber

On May 17th, 2014 I offered my self-published technothriller, NanoStrike, free for five days on Amazon. My novel was downloaded 39,000 times. Perhaps my experience can help others.

Step one–I freshened up my novel, which I self-published in 2012 but never promoted. I retitled, recovered, rewrote, and reedited. If you’d like to know why, I recently wrote a blog post about this for Big Al’s Book & Pals.

I withdrew the old novel from all distribution channels except Amazon, waited two weeks, updated the title and cover on Amazon, then enrolled in KDP.

I was ready for my promotion.


1. Improve the Amazon review profile—I wanted to break 100 reviews. Once a book gets to that level, the odd poor review (inevitable?) doesn’t skew the star rating. Plus IMO, 100+ reviews tells a prospective reader that the novel is battle tested. The first reason is mathematically correct. I have no evidence to support the second, just my gut.

2. Gain name recognition for me and the novel.

The process:

I devoured Jackie Weger’s site, http://enovelauthorsatwork.com, which has all the information you need to prepare for and run a successful promotion

Bookbub is the 5,000lb gorilla in the book promotion world. I requested a Free Book promo slot from them, giving a broad range of dates. They accepted my title for May 17th, and I scheduled my KDP free days. I hate to sound like a school principal, but if I hadn’t already done the hard work to build a good review profile (32 reviews, 4.7 stars), then edited and re-imagined the story, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a Bookbub date. They can afford to be picky, and they are.

Date in hand, I submitted to 34 other book promo sites. Some were free, many not. I was accepted by eighteen plus Bookbub. Go BIG, I was told, and the advice was good.


Bookbub was $220 for a Free Thriller promo. I spent another $200 on the other sites.


Day1-23K, day2-6K, day3-3.5K, day4-4K, day5-2K. Total-39,092 downloads.

Immediate results:

On May 17th, NanoStrike hit the top of Amazon’s free listings in two categories. The title stayed there for five days. My highest Amazon sales rank was 5 (meaning only four other free books were being downloaded faster). Sales rank hovered in the high teens for most of the promo and ended at #29.

  •  Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
  • #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Suspense
  • #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Technothrillers

Short term results:

39K downloads is the Amazon equivalent of 3,900 sales (ten free downloads = one paid download). Equivalent sales don’t count toward the Amazon paid sales ranking. But they do count in the Amazon Popularity Lists, and many readers purchase from those lists. NanoStrike hovered around #10 in the Technothriller Popularity List for almost a month. There are fifteen books to a page, so I was above the fold, which resulted in paid sales.

After thirty days:

NanoStrike has 109 Amazon reviews averaging 4.6 stars. The cover has been seen over 39,000 times. I fulfilled both objectives.

Personal benefits:

1. I’ve sold around 140 books. I’m still selling a copy or two each day even though the title is no longer on the first page of the Popularity Lists. These must be the word of mouth sales I kept hearing about but never got.

2. The image of my title sitting at #1 in the Amazon category lists is indelibly burned in my memory. I want that again, but next time in the paid listings.

3. Sure, many downloads are languishing on Kindles because the book was free. But if 77 people were kind enough to write a review, many more must have read the tale, and that’s thrilling to me. Having my work read and appreciated by strangers is a huge high.

4. I picked up over fifty ‘likes’ on my FB author page, and I have a burgeoning Mailchimp email list thanks to a new link on my website.

5. I learned about Bitly (more on that below), EBookTracker, Amazon Lists and Sales Rank, Mailchimp, and Hootsuite. All in a week, because my feet were to the fire once I landed the Bookbub date.

What would I do differently?

My biggest screw up was not knowing about Bitly before I submitted. I didn’t create unique URL links for each of the promo sites to track their effectiveness, so the 39K downloads are a homogeneous blob. I’ve kicked myself (repeatedly), but I won’t make that mistake again, neither should you. Also, there are a couple programs out there that do the submissions semi-automatically. I’ll use one next time. The manual process is arduous and repetitive.

Overall, I fulfilled my objectives with the free run. I believe the prep work I did on the copy, the cover, my Amazon author page, my web site, etc. contributed significantly to delivering the biggest bang for my buck. Next step—a Kindle Countdown promo in the fall.


Born into a blue-collar family in Liverpool, England, Pete missed The Beatles but did go to The Cavern a few times. He immigrated to the US in the early 90s, and became a citizen. After twenty years in the corporate madhouse, Pete moved to Western North Carolina where he lives with a couple llamas, two spoiled dogs, a brace of cookie-eating goats, one ferocious cat, and a wonderful wife who thankfully understands his obsessive need to write fiction. Learn more about Pete from his website.

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40 thoughts on “When is FREE not free? Answer – when you do a Free book promotion.”

  1. Interesting post, Pete, and I’m not just saying that because you plugged my site. 🙂

    I’m curious, where did you get that 10:1 ratio of how free books count in the popularity lists? I haven’t seen that before. Obviously it is subject to change (there was a time when free books did count on the paid list when they came off free which made some people a ton of money), but that number seems worthwhile to help gauge the benefits from a free run.

    Also, while you’re right to think that some of those free books are languishing on Kindles unread, some of them forever, that you received 77 new reviews from the promotion (plus 10 since you wrote this post) that means a lot of people did read it. What the ratio of read books to reviews is, I’m not sure, but from what I’ve seen others say it is no better than on in a hundred and probably more like one in three to five hundred. That’s two or three thousand readers. At least one of those reviews (the one star) looks like he might be confused. I see a couple other reviews (one says “I couldn’t put it down”) he gave one star reviews to as well.

    1. Big Al: Here is what I discovered. Readers new to reviews think #1 is tops. Because in general society–everybody wants to be number one. The number one rated show on TV or Cable or # 1 a song in music. Book reviews are rated like hotel and restaurants–the more stars the better. David Gaughran is the author who says a FREE download counts as one-tenth of a sale–not in $$$, but in placement after the book promo.

    2. Amazon realized that the free=paid skewed their lists too much, so they made the change. I found the math referenced on a number of sites, and my positioning on the popularity lists seemed to confirm the numbers.

      I’m glowing to think the read-to-reviews numbers might be anywhere near your estimates, though. Now to have my work read that much would be fine!

      Ironically, I received my 1st one-star review the day after I posted this piece. I think it’s kinda neat that he/she liked the book so much that he/she gave a 1-star :-).

  2. Excellent info and analysis, Pete; thanks for sharing. Like Charles, I’ve done freebies and been pleased with the results, but had not taken the time to be nearly as organized as you. Lots of food for thought there.

  3. Pete Barber! You did fantastic on your FREE promo. You made the comment that many Bookbub downloaders of your book have yet to read your book. Bookbub subscribers are hoarders. I am, too since I just got a new Kindle Fire to load up. Here’s what I do: I tweet #BookbubHoarders and tell them they have my books and how many reviews. Three or four reply in the tweets every week. It’s fun and I gather new fans. Congratulation are in order and thanks for sharing.

  4. Great info and I can see that it pays to be organized and methodical. Congratulations on your success.

    But am I the only one who’s confused? Since when does FREE equal $220.00 — or am I missing something? (Yes, I see the title)

    1. Hi Yvonne. That’s just me trying to be cute. No doubt in the short term I had to pay to be free, but digital books are forever–I still have time :-).

  5. Pete, thank you for the clear, concise information. I haven’t made my books free for a long time. Your post has me rethinking that decision.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Donna. If I had your catalog, I probably wouldn’t go FREE either–love your work. My second title comes out in a couple months and I wanted to get some early traction . . . Pete

  6. Fascinating account of your success and congratulations on achieving your objectives. Doing all the prp work must have contributed to the success to the venure. I look forward to hearing how your Countdown goes.

    1. Thanks, Jay. Choosy Bookworm was the site I used to stagger the promo. Your email fired on Day 4 of five. That’s why the numbers went up instead of trailing off as expected.

  7. Very insightful with solid data to back it up. There are many mixed reviews about giving away a book for for free but at the end of the day you have your book in the hands of 39,000 potential buyers of other books who become fans, and ultimately repeat buyers. Giving away a book with proper links to your website, social media, and other books is a great way to advertise.

  8. Interesting article. Well done on your success. It’s an achievement simply to get accepted by Bookbub! I’m one of those with Nanostrike sitting unread on my kindle but I will get round to it, promise. Good luck for the future.

  9. Very clear and interesting account, Pete, thanks. And how exciting your journey was – I might try to emulate it soon! I found the bitly tip especially useful – thanks! And you are right: eNovelWritersatWork is a great site and Jackie Weger a goddess!

  10. That’s interesting information. I’ve never had a book free on Amazon, though do have a short story collection free on Smashwords (Amazon still won’t price-match), but of course, no promo with that. thinking of doing it with my next set of short stories and see what happens!

  11. Thanks for this post Pete. Very helpful! I will run a free promo later this fall when my third book is released. I’m saving this post to help me get organized. And yes, Jackie is a priceless source of info and motivation for the rest of us. 😀

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