Going Perma Free: My Reflections After 100,000 Downloads of my eBook

Note from Laura: This is a guest post by Bryan Cohen, author of 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts. At the end of the post, be sure to visit Bryan’s blog and find out more about his work, as well as to enter his contest where there is $1000 to win! 

Going Perma Free

1,000 Creative Writing Prompts Volume 2 CoverEnough was enough. I’d read those blog posts one too many times. You know the ones. The posts by authors with a massive fantasy series or a YA series who made their first book permanently free on Amazon, also known as perma free, and sold thousands of copies of their subsequent books as a result. I didn’t have a fiction series, but I wanted to see if it could really work.

For those of you who are unaware of the perma free practice, here’s a little explanation. Amazon price matches books found on other bookseller websites like Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. While you can’t make a book perma free on Amazon directly, if you make a book free on some of the other websites, you can get a few folks to notify Amazon of the price difference. Amazon will likely price match your book toward the end of the next month and voila, you have a perma free book on Amazon.

The Reasoning Behind Going Perma Free

I’d recently published my first online course through the website Udemy called “How to Work for Yourself” and it was going very well. I wanted to see if I could boost the numbers even more by offering a link to the course in a companion book. I created a parallel book that contained supplemental content to the course. It wasn’t very long at around 20,000 words, but I felt like the content was strong enough to carry a book on its own. The other trick up my sleeve was a beautiful cover design created by my friend Candice. I used the same title as the course, “How to Work for Yourself,” and went about the perma free process.

 

It took about three weeks for the book to go free on Amazon after posting the book on Apple and Kobo and using the perma free thread on KBoards.com. After corralling some reviews from my students, I pushed the course using a combined strategy of KDP Select websites, plugging the book on Twitter and posting it on bargain hunting websites like SlickDeals.net. I also did a few paid ads, but the standby free-book-pushing-website BookBub would not accept my book on account of its short length and subject matter.

Cracking the Kindle Free 100 List

I thought the book would be a success. I imagined it would have a chance at entering the hallowed ground of the Kindle Free Top 100 list. It had the title, the cover and some good reviews to boot. But I never thought it would be 100,000 downloads big.

 

When the book pushed into the Kindle Top 100, I pulled out all the stops. Facebook ads, constant Twitter posts and plugging the book to the followers of my website. When the other bargain hunting websites picked up on the book, it shot through the roof. I couldn’t control getting the book on those sites, but I’m sure that spreading the deal throughout the Internet made an impact on whether or not it got picked up.

 

When the book cracked the Kindle Top 20, I was amazed. Thousands of downloads for the book were coming in every single day. In August alone, there were close to 40,000 downloads of my little-book-that-could. The book stayed in the top 100 for several weeks before dropping out. It has yet to leave the Kindle Top 500 since.

The Results

So, aside from my huge download numbers, how were the results? I would say they were half exciting and half disappointing. I received over 80 reviews for the book in total, and while there were some trolls, most found the book to be somewhat helpful. I didn’t get quite as many sales of my Udemy course from readers of the book as I would have liked, but I definitely got my brand out to more people than I would have without the free book. My other books didn’t get much of a boost from my perma free sales, but then again, they weren’t all that connected to the “How to Work for Yourself” subject matter. I have the satisfaction of seeing hundreds of people having highlighted key passages in my book, but I also noticed that the highlights dwindled as the book drew to a close.

 

I’m glad I tried out this grand experiment. I feel like I learned a lot about what giving free books away at a massive clip actually means to my brand.

 

Here are a few tidbits about what I learned from going perma free:

 

  1. Most people who download a free book won’t read it and will never contact you. That has to be expected. Some readers treat free books like Pokemon. They’ve got to catch them all. But they don’t have to read them all.

 

  1. Some people who read your book are only there to complain. I had more than a few trolls looking to take me down in the reviews or comments of reviews. That’s just how it goes. The one-star reviews, when buoyed by enough other reviews, did nothing to slow down downloads. When you’re gathering reviews for your book, perma free or not, try to get as many as you can to keep inevitable one-star-trolls from taking you down.

 

  1. Connect your book to other books, to your website and to anything else relevant. While my focus in the book was bringing readers toward my paid Udemy course, I’d really love to see how the book would do with a paid sequel already published. I think that if novelists with a series can get a beautiful cover, an exciting title and about 25 hours of promotion in, they could probably get thousands to tens of thousands of sales of subsequent books.

 

This will not be the last time I try perma free, but the next time I will go into the process with a lot more understanding about how it all works. There’s a great feeling that comes along with getting your work onto the Kindles of over 100,000 people. I think that someday, they might even all pay to read me.

 

About the Author

Bryan Cohen Author of 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts In honor of his new book, Cohen is hosting the “1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars” Writing Contest on his website. Click the link to find out how to enter!  Click the next link to check out the rest of Cohen’s blog tour!

Bryan Cohen is an author, a creativity coach and an actor. His new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon in digital and paperback format. His other books include 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, The Post-College Guide to Happiness, and Ted Saves the World. He has published over 30 books, which have sold more than 20,000 copies in total. Connect with him on his website, Build Creative Writing Ideas, on Facebook or on Twitter.



Laura Pepper Wu is the co-founder of 30 Day Books: a book studio. She has worked with a variety of authors to successfully promote their books, including many Amazon best-sellers. Laura is the author of wedding non-fiction guides and book marketing guides 77 Ways to Find New Readers for Your Self-Published Book and Fire Up Amazon!

Laura also runs Ladies Who Critique, a critique-partner finding site. When she's not working at the studio, you can find her walking her dog, "yoga-ing" or at a coffee shop in Seattle.

 

  • Bryan

    Thank you, Laura, for having me on the blog today!

  • Greg

    Pretty good results there. I think with a title like that it’s hard not to pick up for free. 80 reviews is excellent!

  • Pingback: Monday Must-Reads [11/25/13]

  • http://opportunitiesproject.com/ Tracy Brisson

    Hi Bryan. I found my way here via Laura’s Skillshare class which I am getting some great ideas from. Would you be willing to be more transparent on your financial ROI on your strategy? For every $1 you made on your course or sales of other books, how many cents were dedicated to the expenses needed to market your free book? I’ve read a number of similar posts and I am having a hard time making senses of the ratios.

    As background, I published a non-fiction book about 6 months ago and sales are up and down so I have been experimenting with a few different things to get the word out and get reviews, including Kindle Free Days and Giveaways on Goodreads and Tomoson. The results have been disappointing as far as very few reviews from the efforts and someone took the book he won on Goodreads and simply added it to his inventory for his 800 book Ebay Store (charging more because it’s personally signed- AGH!). So I am struggling with the idea of free. I have had great success with converting people from Google and Twitter Ads into newsletter subscribers and apparently customers (Google analytics suggests they are clicking on the Amazon link, though can’t be positive what they do when they get there), but those ads cut significantly into my royalties and am not sure what ratio I should be aiming for. Any insight would be helpful. Thanks!

  • Bryan

    Hey Tracy, thanks for the post. I’ve done Kindle free days and Goodreads giveaways without much luck either, so I know where you’re coming from.

    Let’s see. Crunching some numbers here, it looks like I earned about $230 from course sales through the perma free Kindle book. There’s obviously no good way to determine if free book people bought my other books or anything like that. Of if there was any added SEO benefit of one of my books being linked up to lots of crazy different sites.

    I didn’t spend more than $100 to market my free book. Though I did spend time sending out tweets and posts on Facebook and the like. So it ended up being a $2.30 made for each $1 spent. When you take into account the time and effort I put in though, who knows how to value all of that.

    I think that in order to make this sort of thing work, you need to make the book a prequel of the book/course you really want to sell. From seeing how well people have done using the perma free trick on a series, I think it’s probably best to use it to promote other books as opposed to a completely different product.

    I hope my info is helpful!

  • http://opportunitiesproject.com/ Tracy Brisson

    Bryan- This was so helpful to me. Thanks for providing this detail and happy holidays!

  • Bryan

    Glad to help! Same to you :).

  • Pingback: How to Promote Your Book Like a Pro! | Triumph of the Spirit

  • Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #38 — The Book Designer

  • Pingback: Freebie Strategies for Indie Authors | Musings and Marvels

  • Pingback: Act Quickly! Amazon Countdown Sale • Jane V. Blanchard