Book Discovery Strategies #1: Two Free Books


Price has been a major point of contention among self-published authors since the publication of the first book through KDP. Through its royalty structure, Amazon guided authors to price their books between $2.99 and $9.99 if they wanted a bigger return. Pricing lower was usually reserved for special sales or shorter works. Since Amazon didn’t allow authors to price books for free outside of its exclusive KDP Select program, few authors considered the strategy behind free books until the discovery of permafree.

Amazon will price your book free if it’s free on other platforms. Google Play, iBooks, Kobo, and Smashwords will let you set a free price for your book, so if you publish a book there and then contact KDP Support to let them know about the price match, nine times out of 10, you’ll have a free book on the biggest ebook retailer in the business.

Getting your book free isn’t a strategy by itself. You need to use one or more free books to increase your chances of discovery. Nick Stephenson’s Reader Magnets strategy, which we’ll refer to as the Two Free Books model, got a lot of attention early this year for its ability to add more readers to author mailing lists at a rapid clip. By including a promotion for a second free book within your already permafree first book, you can increase traffic to your mailing list signup page and bring in a large number of new fans.

Why Does This Strategy Work?

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One of the best ways to get traffic to any page is a free incentive. You’re more likely to click an ad, a link, or a banner if there’s something in it for you. That’s why 30-day free trials are so popular. Businesses are willing to risk people taking the free time or product and never buying for a chance to bring in new customers.

Free books bring in over 10 times as many downloads as paid books. If you can get your books onto the devices of as many people as possible, then you may be able to convert more readers to paying customers than you would have otherwise. By attaching one free book to another book that requires the submission of an email address, you’ll give yourself a better opportunity to connect with these readers.

How Does This Strategy Work?

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Once you’ve made a book permafree using the above price matching procedure, create a small advertisement at the front of the book. You can use a free tool like Canva to create an engaging promotion that readers can see before they even get to the first sentence. The ad should direct readers back to your mailing list signup page and promise a free book.

The back end of the second half of the process can be a little technical. Many authors use a WordPress plugin like OptimizePress to create a high converting mailing list signup page with an attractive clickable button. The landing page should promote the second book and doesn’t even need to mention the mailing list if you use the smart button technology of OptimizePress or some HTML wizardry. When a reader clicks this special kind of button, he’ll be directed to plug in his email address.

To set up the free download of your second book, you can use a combination of Amazon Web Services and an email marketing service like AWeber. AWS allows you to post free downloadable files for free up to a certain number of downloads. Simply upload your file and make it public. In the first email of an AWeber auto responder, you can include a download link to that file on AWS. Readers will get the link to the book upon confirming their subscription to your list.

What Makes The Strategy More Effective?

The Two Free Books strategy will make the greatest impact when you have multiple books in a series. You can make the first book in your series permafree on Amazon and the other retailers. From there, offer the second book or a related novella as the second free item readers can get from signing up to your mailing list. The more books you’ve written in a series, the better your chances of making this strategy work.

An author with only three books in a series can only sell the third book after readers check out the first two for free. Authors with five books in a series have three additional books to sell after readers start with the first two.

The Two Free Books Strategy also works well with the next strategy we’ll discuss, Securing Email Advertisers. Getting your first book featured as part of a BookBub promotion could net you a significant number of email subscribers and later sell-throughs to your other books. Once again, it’s all about the traffic, because 20,000 to 30,000 downloads will serve your mailing list ad to more readers, leading to more sign ups, and more sales.

The Question of Value

Some authors and pundits criticize the Two Free Books strategy (as well as the permafree model in general) because they claim it devalues books. It’s up to you how much belief you want to put into those arguments. Six-figure authors like Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson have added thousands of readers to their lists through giving away free books. Andy Weir, the self-published author of The Martian, first gave away his book for free until it became a huge hit. Now the movie version is coming out with Matt Damon as the lead. It can be hard to put months of hard work into a book and to see it up there for zero dollars and zero cents, but it’s currently one of the top ways to get more readers to discover your books. Keep writing stronger work, and eventually you won’t mind that your earliest books have the lowest possible barrier to reader entry.