Do free giveaways work?

by Morgan St. James

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The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. I’ve been a hybrid author for a few years now, meaning that I am both traditionally and self-published. The world of self publishing has evolved to the point where much of the original onus it fostered in the beginning is now gone. There are some truly wonderful self-published books and even many A-List authors have opted to self publish their work.

With the surge in self publishing comes the increased competition for the buyer’s dollar. In the beginning if you did a free Kindle giveaway the results could be incredible. A few years ago I did one for my mother’s fun-filled memoir, Can We Come in and Laugh, Too? Here was a book written by an ordinary 80 year old woman who had the extraordinary ability to make people believe in themselves and view the world with humor. No one knew who she was, nor should they have. But with minor promotion over 6,000 copies were downloaded worldwide. People posted their thanks on Facebook and other social media and it generated some very good reviews. In the aftermath of the promotion, over 200 copies were sold within a few weeks plus several paperback copies. That was how it was a few years ago.

I tried a free Kindle promotion for a different book at the beginning of 2014 with the same amount of promotion I’d put into my mother’s book. The results were disappointing to say the least. About 600 copies were downloaded with no residual purchases and one review. Readers had become somewhat immune to the lure of a free book because so many were available. I realized stronger pre-promotion and ongoing presence during the free days was imperative, and I decided to try a Goodreads giveaway contest of five paperback copies of Ripoff, a funny crime caper, as the first venture into giving away paperbacks instead of ebooks although there was cost attached to it. There were several hundred requests and, as agreed, I mailed the paperback copies to the five winners. I got one review and never heard a word from the other winners. Essentially it cost about $50 for very little return. I won’t do that again. If I do a Goodreads giveaway for another book there will only be one win ner.

This month (August 2014) I decided to try a Kindle free promotion for Ripoff, but with a much more aggressive program. I used the links in the Authors’ Marketing Club site to submit the promotion to twenty different free and bargain book newsletters and blogs well in advance of the date. Free Booksy selected the book as one of their featured free books and just about every other newsletter I’d submitted to did run it. The day before the promotion I began my social media blast. I was all over Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for three days, posting every hour or hour and a half, listed it on my personal website, on the blog for my funny mystery novels,, ran an excerpt in the Writers’ Tricks of the Trade eZine and on the related blog and the only thing I didn’t do and could have was to do a blog tour. It was a lot of work, but it did pay off.

Over 5,600 free copies of the book were downloaded, there were residual paid sales and another 700 copies were downloaded under the new Kindle Unlimited program after the promotion was over. It ranked in overall Top 100 Free Kindle books and went as far as #1 in its category. Since the 3 day promotion ended, it has remained in top rankings in its category in paid sales and the overall Kindle ranking is much higher than it was before the promotion. Of course, this might not last as time goes one and I’ll have to do lots more to promote the book, but it certainly proved that the FREE PROMOTION does nothing much without doing everything to gain visibility. You can be the best, but if no one knows it doesn’t mean anything.

I also learned that next time I do a Kindle free book I’ll only run it for two days, not three. The majority of the downloads were on the first and second day. Also, if you keep giving away the same book people get used to seeing it and I think the downloads get fewer and fewer unless you allow for a big time gap between the promotions. Therefore, I’ve just published a little book called Getting Even. It is only 46 pages and offered for 99 cents, but is basically a promotional vehicle for Ripoff, and I can offer it free any time I decide to. You see, there are two elements in Ripoff—the protagonist’s betrayal by her less-than-honest hunky boy-toy and her stint as an amateur undercover sleuth when she goes to work for the Federal prison system.

Getting Even goes into much more depth relative to how she and a bunch of other cougars this young man had conned devise a diabolical plan to get even with him. It does give the setup in the first few chapters to let the reader know why she went from a cushy job at a technology corporation to working for the Federal prison system, and that might stimulate the reader’s curiosity about the story contained in the book Ripoff. However, by going into much more detail than that contained in Ripoff about how she and her fellow Sisterhood of Conned Cougars get back at this sleazy guy, it gives the reader a real feeling for who Kimberly Martin is and how successful she can be once she sets her mind to something.

When the exclusive time period for Kindle Select expires for Ripoff, it will be taken out of the program and offered in all other formats via Smashwords. That will open up a whole new market and a new free promotion will be staged.

In a nutshell, if you are going to do a free promotion in this day and age, my feeling is you have to have a carefully plotted plan in place first to bring attention to the book. You can’t just list it. You have to be prepared to put the time and energy into what an awareness campaign requires.


Visit for links to the current and archived issues of the bi-monthly Writers’ Tricks of the Trade eZine. Morgan St. James is the award-winning author of 11 books, multiple short stories, over 600 articles about the business and craft of writing.

Check out Ripoff: A Funny Crime Caper on Amazon.

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