Should you give your book away for free?

Ah, the big question.

I received yet another email yesterday from a nice person asking this very question. They have two (almost three) self-published novels for sale on Amazon, and the question was phrased as, “I don’t understand why I would give my book away for free, since it doesn’t generate a lot of sales.”

My reaction is always the same: I get it. You don’t always want to give your book away for free, even if you know readers will like that.

But that doesn’t at all change my stance.

If you’re a self-published author, or even just a creator of “stuff” — art, music, photography, whatever — this post is written to you.

There are plenty of opinions on the subject of whether you should give your book away for free or not, so you’re welcome to disagree. Actually I welcome it — I’m sure I haven’t considered all sides of the debate. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post to weigh in! As for my thoughts:

Give Your Book Away for Free: Not Just About Sales

It’s not even about generating newsletter signups, website visits, etc.

If you are wondering whether or not you should give your book away for free — at least when you’re a new author (and I call anyone who’s not selling in droves in grocery stores a “new” author) — is about beating obscurity.

If you don’t have readers, you don’t exist. It’s a hard truth to swallow, but I’m not one to sugarcoat things. Only by offering something of value (in this case, a free book) to people who might enjoy it can you really build readership and earn fans and followers.

Still not tracking with me?

JA Konrath, of “A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing” fame (and also someone who makes around $100,000 a month selling books), is a huge proponent of the freebie game (and ebook piracy, for that matter). He regularly uses sites like to link to his “free” days on Amazon from the popular ebook deal email list, and has had some success with it.

However you feel, know this: I’m more likely to read your book if you give your book away for free.

That doesn’t guarantee that I’ll read it, but one of the main obstacles to reading it — price — is completely removed when you give your book away for free.

And I believe it’s this truth that can be expanded to “anyone who reads ebooks.”

Kindle’s not the only way. 

I’m a fan of Amazon’s KDP Select program, but it’s not the only one out there. Smashwords allows you to give your book away for free for an unlimited period of time, as well as offer discounts and coupons. Web-savvy folks could of course sell (or give away) their books directly from their site without even needing to go through one of the big companies.

But the point of giving your book away for free isn’t really to just offer it for free — it’s to offer to give your book away for free to as many people as possible at once. Again, you’re fighting obscurity, and that means you need to be in front of as many eyes as possible; preferably eyes that belong to people who’d love to read your work.

On Amazon, you have the option of running a free promotion for 5 days during a 90-day period. You could do one day at a time, waiting a week between each “free day,” or you could run them all at once.

In my experience, running them all at once is the way to go — it gives your book longer to climb up the “Top Free” lists at Amazon (which helps translate into more paid sales after the promotion is over), and that means that your book will be in front of even more people.

By adding in things like BookBub, BookGorilla, and other promotions, you’re just adding proverbial fuel to the fire.

There’s a caveat. 

Here’s the catch, though: if you’re directing all of this traffic to your free book on Amazon, and then scads of people are downloading it (and hopefully reading it), are you doing everything possible to push that promotion to your favor?

  • Are you including a “please review this book” message at the end of your book?
  • Are you inviting them to sign up to your mailing list to be informed when your next book drops?
  • Are you including clickable links to your other books in your Kindle book’s pages?

All of these things are technically easy to set up, and will help solidify your promotion as a successful campaign. You don’t have to do these things, but the cost is virtually zero to set them up, and they can only help keep people clicking around your network for a longer period of time.

If you really want to step it up, consider offering a “perma-free” book by setting the price at $0 over at Smashwords, and then letting Amazon find it and match the price. You’ll now have a book that defies Amazon’s “rules” (though you’r really not doing anything wrong since Amazon states that it automatically will try to beat the lowest found price anyway), letting you capitalize on extended runs on the “Top Free” lists.

If you choose to give your book away for free, the best option is to do it when you have multiple books listed on Amazon, so that your free promotion will translate into sales for your other book(s). Either way, your “perma-free” will generate downloads, and the above three calls-to-action will help drive people to your email lists, write reviews, and check out what else you have to offer.


Consider all sides when you’re in the self-publishing game. If you’re only in it for the money, you might argue that you’re “losing” sales by offering to give your book away for free — but here’s the deal: unless you already have a huge network of followers, readers, and fans, you’re starting out swimming upstream in a very crowded river. The best you can do for yourself is to plan ahead:

Fight obscurity, break through, and make sales down the road by offering a fan-generating “freebie” today. Give your book away for free and see what happens!

What do you think? Should you give your book away for free? Am I missing anything?

Let me have it — just leave a comment below!