Guest Post: Does Free Reign?

Today’s guest post comes from Wendy L. Young, Tuesday’s featured debut author. Wendy mentioned in our chat that offering one of her short stories for free on Amazon has helped sales of her self-published novel, Come the Shadows. I found this to be interesting. Conventional thought used to be — and as my grandmother used to tell me when I hit puberty — nobody wants to pay for a cow when they can get the milk for free. Recently, Akashic Books defied that logic when copies of its parody children’s book, Go the F— to Sleep, went viral before its publication in June. Sales of the book still skyrocketed, and it remains on the New York Times Bestseller List three months later. Many authors offer their books for free intentionally as a way to increase their visibility. Wendy chose to offer a separate, shorter work. I wanted to know more. Today, Wendy gives it to us.

When I embarked on this journey I focused on the writing, telling myself that the marketing would follow — just get it out there and then worry about the rest. The only pause I took in the middle of writing Come the Shadows was to pen a quick short story titled “One Final Night.” From first word to publish I spent one week on it. I put it out there, quickly learned some important self-publishing lessons, and largely left it alone.

Fast forward 3 months and Come the Shadows was published and available for download – and I was standing at an abyss called Marketing. I saw some chatter about freebies and realized that I had something to offer. At this point I had considered UN-publishing my short story and wiping it from the public eye because it was in a different genre. After considering my options, I switched tactics and made it free. That’s not an instant thing — neither Barnes & Noble or Amazon will let a self-published author choose *free* as an option – but after a couple of weeks it finally took effect.

Within 48 hours of the price change almost 2500 people had picked it up off Amazon. 24 hours later the total doubled. In less than a week it peaked at #15 on the freebie list – that’s ALL freebies, for all Kindles. Now, in less than a month, it has been downloaded almost 27000 times on Kindle. I cannot access any B&N numbers for it due to how it is listed there but I would venture it’s 5,000+ there as well. The reviews have been great too — averaging over 4.5 stars across the board.

But, what does that mean for my book?

At this point, not a lot. Were I listing a free novel with a tie-in to a paid book I think I would be running down the road screaming joy as numbers climbed. I am very happy I did it but it has not bought me a trip to the moon, or even over a hop over the Atlantic.

But that’s not to say it hasn’t done any good. It did bump my sales a little when I combined it with dropping the price of Come the Shadows from $2.99 to $0.99. And with such glowing reviews it definitely helps those who research see very positive statements about my writing and the effect my work can have on a reader. That’s something you cannot buy.

Overall I recommend this as a very positive technique for a new writer. Amazon, especially, does an amazing job promoting free works. I mentioned it most days on Twitter but for the most part Amazon did it for me. The downloads have slowed but continue and I have no plans any time soon to return it to a paid price.

I will definitely use free downloads again in the future and on larger works. I have seen multiple stories about how effective it can be and I believe that used well — long-term or just for a week or two — it can pay great dividends in growing an author’s footprint with readers.

Wendy L. Young has been writing for more than twenty years. She now writes and publishes short stories in literary fiction/drama and novels in mystery/suspense. Her first mystery Come the Shadows is out now and the sequel will be published in late fall 2011. Follow her online at


4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Does Free Reign?

  1. I am an ebook reader, via Nook. B&N has a free book every Friday. Most Fridays I download the free book to try out a new ‘to me’ author. I think it is a very good way to branch out beyond the same writers over and over.

  2. James Patterson has previews of several of his newest books on the Nook for free. One it appears to be 87 pages, another it says the 1st 30 chapters. Freebees must help for such a well known author to be doing it some too.

  3. Dina and Wendy, I think I shall bookmark this particular post and come back to it in order to absorb it more fully. By and large I have avoided both self-publishing and free-publishing. As I implied in a comment to Wendy, this means that being read is a bit of a struggle. Nevertheless, something tells me to hold off for a while.

    I’m middle-aged, but have only been writing since 2004 (when I suddenly realised that I could!), so I ought to be in a hurry. However, I don’t think I am…

    Marie Marshall

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