Is a FREE promo still worth doing? #bookmarketing

In the past, FREE promos saw huge downloads and, although it costs plenty to advertise a free book (sometimes more than a reduced price book!), still provided a good ROI (return on investment) as a result of sales of the author’s other books, especially if the free book was #1 in a series.

I’ve seen quite a lot of reports that FREE no longer brings that ROI to many, but plenty of authors continue to set #1 in a series as a permafree, so it must work to some extent. I though it was about time to test this out for myself.

I’ve always resisted giving my books away for free. I spend a lot of time and effort writing them, not to mention the money I have invested in improving my writing skills, and in book production costs. I produce a quality product and feel I should receive remuneration in return. However, for the first time, I have a complete series to offer, with good readthrough from one book to the next, and thought I would take the plunge with a free promo to see if it was worth it.

A big Christmas promo is the backbone of my marketing strategy. I have tried advertising at all times of year, and this one consistently performs best for me. Sometimes I add a second promo around May time, to bump things back up a bit, but on the whole the increase in visibility and sales lasts several months, and I’ve not found either summer or autumn promos to be very effective, so Christmas it is.

This is what I did:

I set book #1, THE PRINCE’S MAN, to FREE on all retailers on December 16th 2022. My paid promos were not scheduled to begin until the 23rd, but with the challenge of companies closing down for Christmas, and needing to be certain that Amazon would price match to free in time for the holidays, I erred on the side of caution.

Here is the list (and prices) of the promos I booked, spread across 11 days:

That brought me to a total ad spend of : $473.60  £406.79

I have been incredibly fortunate over the past 4 years to score a BookBub Featured Deal each Christmas, but no dice this year, and as I was experimenting, I was okay with that – in the fantasy category, an ad for a free book costs $487, which would have doubled my spend. True, the average number of downloads is 23,000, so maybe another time.


To my great surprise, I had 308 downloads of The Prince’s Man in the week before any ads appeared! I have no idea how the book came to people’s attention, but it does help me to appreciate the concept of having a free starter book to a series.

The downside of free books is how many people download them but never get around to reading. I know, my Kindle is stuffed with them.

Anyway, the official sale ran from December 23rd to Jan 3rd, at which point the book reverted to its regular price of £3.99

During the sale period, the download figures were:

Amazon 5340  

Apple 181  

B&N 51 

Smashwords 4 

Vivlio 1  

Kobo ???

This is where I learned that Kobo does not report free downloads, so I can only guess at those. They are regularly roughly in line with Apple, but that’s the best I can offer.

So, total downloads of The Prince’s Man during the sale period were: 5579 (plus Kobo)

Total dowloads while priced at FREE: 5887 + Kobo, so I feel fairly confident in estimating 6,000 downloads.

How does this translate into income?

To analyse this, I took sales figures for the series over the 6 months preceding the sale (no promos in this period, this it just organic sales), and calculated average monthly sales for each of:

SalesPriceProfit per sale ($)(£)
The Prince’s Man (#1)8.5$3.99£2.43£1.97
The Prince’s Son (#26.2$4.99$3.48£2.85
The Prince’s Protege (#3)5.8$5.99$4.17£3.41
The Prince’s Heir (#4)5.3  $6.99$4.70£3.84

Profit from D2D, which covers all non-Amazon retailers, is slightly less, at 60% rather than 70% of book price, which give me an average monthly income from this series of:

Amazon:    $92.30 £81.59 

D2D:           $22.35 £20.37

                 ====      ====

                 $114.65 £101.96

Looing at the sale period:

December sales of books #2, #3 & #4:

Prince’s Son (#2) – Amazon 16 Apple 1 =17 total

Prince’s Protégé (#3) – Amazon 8

Prince’s Heir (#4) – Amazon 6

I was delighted to see some people obviously cracking straight on through the series as soon as they’d read #1, even though the numbers were not huge.

January sales:

Now to look at the effects over a longer time period.

Of course The Prince’s Man (#1) continued at FREE until the end of Jan 3rd. Over the first 3 days of January I had another 315 downloads.

One thing to take into account here, is that while The Prince’s Man reached dizzy heights in Amazon’s Top 100 Free books

the unfortunate corollary is that without paid sales, the book’s sales ranking dropped like a stone, to far, far lower than its usual standing:

One thing I did not expect, however, was that The Prince’s Man has continued to sell, in bigger numbers than usual, even once it returned to full price.

Amazon salesD2D salesTotal January sales
The Prince’s Man (#1)18422
The Prince’s Son (#2)14721
The Prince’s Protege (#3)9716
The Prince’s Heir (#4)9615

There was also a small uptick in sales of my other books.


Still out for debate. Clearly there is a substantial increase in sales across the board, although not as much as I’d hoped for.

January income from the series was:

Amazon $195.51 £157.89

D2D $ 85.14 £ 69.18

===== =====

$280.65 £227.07

So although well up on the average for the previous 6 months, clearly I am still out of pocket from the expense of the promo ads. I reckon it will be several months before I can safely say one way or the other that this was a failure, or a success.

On a personal level, I prefer the results I’ve had previous years from doing a $0.99 sale, rather than FREE, but I may change my mind yet, depending on the continued sales over the next few months as slower readers work their way through the series.

I did get one lovely new review from a delightful lady who got in touch to say she’d only found The Prince’s Man because it was included in one of the newletters she subscribes to that feature free books, so I gained a new fan, which is never to be sneezed at.

Further analysis

I will review figures again in a couple of months, and let you know how it’s going.

In the meantime, I will also post an analysis of which promo sites I think were worth their price, but there is enough in this post to be going on with, I think!


  1. That was fascinating. I only list my books through Amazon so I get the digital page turns (about 40% of my monthly check) but constantly consider making a switch. Judging by your sales, Amazon is by far your biggest retailer.

    Love the analysis of free vs. $.99. I hadn’t considered those before. Thanks for sharing all of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I doubt there are many authors (if any) that have more sales outside of Amazon than in, but I tried KDP with my books and didn’t get many pages read at all, so going wide was a far better option for me.
      I’m still looking forward to analysing this over a longer time period for a clearer answer. So far this month my sales are double normal, so it depends on how long the effect lasts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s interesting. I wonder what’s up with that (the page turns).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I believe it has quite a bit to do with genre – and that’s not a constant, Also, I might well do better now that I have a full series out, but I’m happy with being wide, particularly as plenty of my UK readers use their ipads, and want to buy on Apple.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I always find your posts on marketing to be fascinating and very helpful, Debby. I haven’t yet done any paid marketing, but this IS the year I plan to do so. Budget restraints mean I have to start small and work my way up to the bigger guys, but I’m analyzing your experiences carefully before making any final decisions. In the meantime, I’m running a bi-monthly series of promo posts on my blog, just as an easy and free way to possibly garner a few new readers. (I don’t expect anything huge, believe me, but all it cost me was a little bit of time, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to do that while I’m investigating other options.)

    I’ve saved all your posts about your marketing experiences, and will be going over them again very, very carefully before making decisions as to what might work best for me. Thank you so much for taking the time to share what you’ve learned.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see your promo posts, and as you say, they don’t cost you anything other than a little time, so can be worth the small effort they take. The paid advertising, however, is often the best way to reach new readers who would otherwise never have come across you or your work.
      I think the most fascintating thing is working out which sites offer the best ROI – there are certainly some I wouldn’t bother with again. Of course this changes over time, and I belong to a few groups on Facebook that will periodically discuss which sites seem to be working and which have slipped down the rankings. Of course different sites are more or less effective for different genres, just to add another layer of guesswork!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I am definitely planning to do some paid advertising this year, Debby, using some of your shared experiences as a guide of sorts. Can’t jump into the Big Ones right away, but I figure, I’ll start with my own free promos, and work my way up, starting with some of the less expensive ones and aiming for the higher priced ones that are usually much more profitable.

    Your posts on this subject have been a huge help, and I really appreciate learning from your experiences. Thank you so much for sharing with us! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Impressive, Deborah. I did freebies a number of years ago and got thousands of downloads. Here’s my question: how many of those people actually read my novel? I had no way of learning that information. The conventional wisdom at the time (from a survey) was that people just downloaded their kindles with free books but didn’t actually read the stories. So, the advice became to do 99 cent promotions because people are more likely to read if they actually purchase the book. The whole point of freebies is to expand readership and build a fan base for your stories. But if they are not read, where are we? Your thoughts on this? Were you able to get any feedback as to actual readers? Did you get a sudden surge in customer reviews? Thanks for an enlightening post today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What you’ve cited about freebies is the main reason I’ve never offered any of my books for free before now – there really is no way to estimate how many will actually READ the book once they’ve downloaded it. My best way to analyse this is to see how many go on to read the subsequent books in the series – I have always had a good readthrough percentage, so I think this should be a fair way to measure how many people do read it, although I estimate it will be a long study, as not everyone reads books very fast! I’m going to analyse my results over the next few months and keep everyone updated.


  5. Hi Deb. Just a quick stop by while on vacay. But I always enjoy reading your promo stats and figuring out where it’s best worth to spend our advertising dollars. Thanks so much for sharing. Hugs from Mexico ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping in, Deb, and I hope you are enjoying yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Deb. I truly am. 🙂 x

        Liked by 1 person

  6. […] thought I would do a 1 month update, after my marketing round up at the end of January following my experiment of setting book #1 in this series to FREE and advertising it fairly […]


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