Should you make your self-published book available for free?

Twible cover finalAs part of the ongoing experiment that is The Twible, the first book I’ve ever published by myself after years of publishing traditionally, I wanted to test-drive the wisdom of FREE.

So when I set up the Kindle version late last year, I chose the KDP Select option. That’s a different (and quite controversial) way of digital publishing through Amazon. You get the power to run periodic sales and even have your book be free for five days of a ninety-day period.

The Faustian bargain here is that you sell your soul to Amazon. You can’t digitally publish your book anywhere else but Kindle Select:


Not for the Nook

Not as a Vook

Not for the Kobo

Or Apple’s iBook

But Amazon doesn’t have to be your steady boyfriend forever. After 90 days you can re-evaluate and move your Kindle book to the regular KDP program, which allows you to date other people.

Based on sales of previous books, I determined that the vast majority of the ebooks sold seemed to be for the Kindle, with all the also-ran platforms accounting for less than 20 percent of sales – combined.

So to me, it seemed like a fair tradeoff to limit myself to one major sales channel, at least temporarily, in exchange for pricing flexibility. Over the Easter weekend, from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday, I made The Twible downloadable for free as a gift to readers.

More than 2,500 people downloaded it over the five-day period. For a self-published book with no in-house marketing, that’s a fair number of potential readers. (I say “potential” because realistically, a lot of people download books just because they are free and don’t ever read them.)

During the five-day promotion, the book went up to the #2 slot in digital Bibles and #6 in humor.

During the five-day promotion, the book went up to the #2 slot in digital Bibles and #6 in humor.

That was about six weeks ago, and I’ve found several benefits to the strategy, in addition to all those potential readers.

1)   A bump in print sales. This was a welcome increase. While it wasn’t a huge spike, it was definitely visible both in the Amazon print sales direct to customers and the LSI print sales (to bookstores). Print sales were up over the previous two months, even though the book had been out since November.

2)   More reviews. Several new reviews showed up on Amazon after the promotion. Granted, not all of these were positive! (My favorite one-star review found the tone of The Twible“indicative to me of someone who doesn't love God or His Word. I strongly question whether she is even saved. This book is no longer on my device and shouldn't be in ANY Christian's library. . . . I can't stress it enough, Christians, STAY AWAY from this book! It is heresy!”)

3)   At least one extra speaking engagement. The book’s availability during the Easter weekend has led to another church inviting me to speak.

4)   General good will. Readers who were fans of my writing and had already purchased the book seemed truly happy to be able to recommend it to their friends via social media. Good things can happen for books with a friend’s word of mouth recommendation and no price tag attached. It made me happy to be able to give a gift to readers.

Will I do it again? Yes, I think so. (But you can always buy it now anyway instead of waiting until then.)