Creating eBook Bestsellers: Free eBooks

At BEA, Kelly Peterson moderated a discussion with three panelists, all of them influential in the eBook industry.  As a refresher, these are the panelists:

kelly panel

  • Erin Gorham, Digital Account Manager at HarperCollins
  • Nathan Maharaj, Director of Merchandising at Kobo
  • Susan Ruszala, President of NetGalley

The biggest takeaway? A four-part comprehensive marketing plan is key:

These four areas make up the foundation of success owned by big publishers. But small publishers and independent authors can take advantage of these approaches too.

Today, we’re going to wrap up our blog series by discussing Free eBooks. Please check out our previous discussions of pre-order, general merchandising, and discount merchandising.


The Best Things in Life are Free

Free books have been available to readers for centuries: the Library of Alexandria still lives on in legend.  Free eBooks from retailers serve the same purpose as the ones checked out at libraries; they help readers find new favorite authors at little risk.  That means that new devices bring new customers who will be experimenting with the eBook apps, comparing all the bells and whistles.

Nathan Maharaj mentioned that many Kobo customers download free books as their first reads, but then later move on to paid content, often by the same author. Free is a great way to find new readers for all your content!

Find Your Niche

Erin and Nathan both agree that genre readers are not just voracious readers, but they love free.  While the American Bookseller Association describes an avid reader as someone reading over 10 books a year, genre readers can be reading that many a month.  That means that they are always in the market for new authors, and are more likely to give an unknown name a try.  It could also mean that they need to stretch their budget a bit, which means that they will check out the freebies. Are you writing genre fiction?  This might be your gateway to popularity.


Three’s Not a Crowd: It’s a Requirement

There’s a little catch to free: it only works well for authors if they have more books available to sell. If you give your only book away for free, you might find readers – but they’ll forget about you by the time your second book comes out.  At Harper Collins, Erin uses free first books in series to support authors who have several books available for sale.  That way, the reader gets the first book free, but they’ll pay full price to see what happens next.  If it’s your only book, giving it away to likely readers just means they will never pay money for your writing…they don’t have an opportunity.


The Exception to that Rule…

Okay, there is one exception: it’s okay to give your only book away for free if you get something great in return.  Susan Ruszala told us about the best practices for NetGalley, and we concur; NetGalley can get you a lot of attention for your title when it is available for pre-order.  NetGalley provides access to librarians, booksellers, active bloggers, and people who review books on multiple retailers.  That free book can pay off in great publicity and attention.  It’s critical to reach back out to those reviewers once your book is on-sale to ask them to add their reviews to the retailer sites.


Advertise, Advertise, Advertise

If you’re going to give your book away, don’t forget to lead the reader to their next great read. Utilize your back matter to suggest more books, and let us create retailer-specific links to make it easier for the customer.  They clicked on you once; make it easy for them to click on you again!  Ultimately, that free book may be the best thing you ever did to find readers.

Thanks for joining us for our Creating an eBestseller series!  We look forward to providing you more great ways to drive your sales.