Free Book Promotions: Are They Worth It?

by | Oct 5, 2016

The continuing controversy among self-published authors is whether you should sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing’s Kindle Select Program and use the free promotion feature.

The secondary questions are:

  • Is it worth it to be exclusive?
  • Are the free promotion days that tend to entice some authors – and readers – worth it?

There seem to be almost as many opinions on these controversies as there are, well, books. So what’s my take?


I followed thriller authors Joanna Penn and Nick Stephenson’s advice. I listed two of them (Social Media in 30 Minutes a Day and The Author’s Guide to Goodreads) in the Kindle Select Program.

While Penn and Stephenson are both advocates of publishing from a wide variety of platforms (Kobo, iBooks, Smashwords, etc.), the first several, they say, should be exclusive to Amazon and its Kindle Select Program (KSP).

The huge downside to KSP is once you make that check mark indicating you’re in the program, you’re automatically enrolled in Kindle Unlimited (KU). And once you’re in KU, you’re not paid by book sales but by pages read.

For some authors, that can elicit a groan because the difference in how you’re paid can be huge.

Let me explain. How many of you have purchased books and let them sit on a crowded bookshelf or in a stack of books on your desk without ever reading them or at least delaying opening the first page for a few months? Or even a year?

I know that I’m guilty of this.

In my case, even though I was selling a fair amount of books, the money I earned didn’t match up.

So if you want to be paid by books sold, avoid KSP and Kindle Unlimited. But if you want to offer free promotions, you can’t avoid them.

Now there’s that other question to consider. Is giving away ebooks worth it?

I’ve never been a huge fan of KSP promotions but not because I don’t give books away – I give paperbacks away all the time. And I’m a big believer in giving away books to aid awareness and garner more book reviews.

freeMy issue with free book promotions is that they never seem to work as well for me as they do for bestselling authors. Maybe it’s because I write nonfiction. And maybe it’s because authors who serialize their books sell a heck of a lot more books than I do.

Despite my reservations, I gave it a go and joined KSP. And I scheduled a free promotion.

In addition to using social media and my email list to alert my readers and followers about the sale, I also paid for some lists. But first I had to research them.

This is what I discovered:

Books Butterfly

I’ve heard that the Top 200 Push or the Pure Wild Card or Super Slot options are the best. Those options range from $80 to $120.

Some of the benefits are that Books Butterfly has 241,788 email subscribers, and they have more than 170,000 Twitter followers.

My thoughts: Considering the size of the email list, the pricing seems fair. What you don’t know is how many of those readers prefer romance or historical fiction or science fiction let alone nonfiction.

EReader News Today

To qualify for EReader News Today, review these restrictions:

  • Your books need to be available on They also promote book deals that are available at Barnes & Noble/Nook, Google Play, Apple iTunes and Kobo.
  • Your books must be priced at $0.99 or be on sale.
  • Your books are required to be a full-length book, in other words, at least 125 pages. There are exceptions for children’s, nonfiction, and cookbooks.
  • You can’t run two promotions within 90 days.

Also, EReader has further considerations:

  • The cover must appear professional.
  • EReader will look at your reviews to see how well readers have liked it.
  • Your book must be professionally edited.
  • The larger the discount, the better chance you’ll have at your book being accepted.
  • EReader won’t post erotica, pornography, books that contain controversial subject matter, or books that may be considered offensive to any race, gender, or religion.
  • EReader does reserve the right to deny a book.

My thoughts: A Goodreads group that I belong to gave this service a high rating, and I plan to use it for a book I’ll release near the end of the year.

Fussy Librarian

To be considered:

  • You must have ten reviews and a 4.0 rating on Amazon, 11 to 19 reviews and a 4.0 rating, or 20 reviews and a 3.5 rating.
  • If you have ten reviews, they should be split between Amazon’s various stores — such as the U.S. and the U.K. Reviews must be from Amazon.
  • You book needs to be priced at a price of $5.99 or less on the day of the promotion.

My thoughts: I like the fact that this service accepts ebooks priced at $5.99. However, it might be difficult for some authors to get reviews from the U.S. and the U.K. And some indie authors have a hard time getting reviews. But Fussy Librarian is a solid outfit and one that I’ll consider with future books.


BookSends has these minimum book requirements:

  • Your book must have at least five reviews with a high overall average, and
    an attractive cover.
  • You must offer a discount of least 50% off the full price, and it must be less than $3.
  • You may submit one book at a time.
  • BookSends won’t feature the same book more than once every 90 days.
  • You need a planned sale price of less than $3 and at least 50% off full price.

My thoughts: I used BookSends and spent $100. It was easy to sign up for it. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell whether this service helped more than the posts I added to social media or the emails I sent but I suspect that it did.


Here are some tips:

  • Use for free and bargain books between the price of $0.99 and $5.
  • You can feature the same title every 30 days.
  • Unlike some services, they accept permafree books, short stories, books with no reviews, and erotica.
  • They look for well-written and well-formatted books.
  • FreeBooksy reaches more than 150,000 readers.
  • FreeBooksy has several features including a free Facebook app to add to your Facebook author page.

My thoughts: I haven’t used this service, but I like the fact that I don’t need to offer my book for free, and I like the Facebook app feature.

The eReader Café

It’s great that this service is free but its list is just 80,000, a paltry number compared to other services.

eReader Café does offer a Book of the Day list, and that costs $35. The services notes the best-selling genres (romance, mystery, thrillers, contemporary, Christian, Historical, memoir) and indicates that the bestselling price point is between $0.99 and $2.99.

My thoughts: If you’ve written a book in the genres they specify, this service might be worth trying once.


Here are some guidelines:

  • Your book must have good reviews and “substantial positive acclaim.”
  • Your discount needs to be at least 50%.
  • You’ll need to write an “enticing” summary to be accepted.

My thoughts: There are different pricing structures for different genres, ranging from $25 to $100. Their email reaches 70,000 subscribers, and they accept 23 genres. I think there are better deals out there.


This service will submit your book to more than 45 sites for just $35. For $25 it sends your book to 25 websites.

My thoughts: I think this service is a no brainer and quite a deal.


I learned about this service from Howard VanEs, a book marketing consultant. He says that the Executive package, at the cost of $379, is worth every penny.

What I know is that for $379, FreeBookService will send your book to 15,000+ worldwide readers over a 24 to 48 hour period. The company offers lower packages and for $1,499 you can promote your book when it costs $0.99. That promotion will last 72 hours.

My thoughts: This is a pricey service especially considering the small list counts, but some people swear by it.

Reading Deals

For $29, Reading Deals will submit your free and bargain-priced ebook to its list of 35,000 readers and tweet it to 120,000+ followers.

My thoughts: I thought this service was a good deal and used it, and I would use it again. It came highly regarded from a marketing consultant I know.

My Results

At the end of my free book promotion, my book was in the bestseller ranking in my three selected categories.


Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you like the Kindle Select Program, and if so, why?

Photo: Pixabay

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Cecelia

    Thank for this! I’m debuting a romance novel in Jan and the KDP/Wide decision has my head spinning. It seems the common wisdom is to go KDP select (for a short or long time period?) for new authors.

    That said, and one wants to taken advantage of promotions, when is the best time to do them? At launch? After a certain time period?

    And is it true one should not do pre-orders inbox Amazon?

    I appreciate thoughts on these questions that seem to have multiple answers everywhere I look!

    • Cecelia

      To “take advantage of promotions” and “pre-orders on Amazon.” Sorry, darn voice text!

    • Frances Caballo

      Cecelia: Personally, I wait a month or so after I launch a book before I offer it for free. I’m sure other authors may have different strategies but that’s mine. I don’t want to miss out on early sales from my launch efforts. Regarding preorders, Mark Coker is a huge fan of them. I did offer preorders for Social Media in 30 Minutes a Day and the preorders contributed to a huge jump in sales the first day of my launch. You could always experiment and see how they work with your readers. I wish you much success with your new book!

      • cecelia

        Thank you SO MUCH for answering my questions and putting out amazing content that help new authors like myself tremendously. :)

  2. z

    I have discovered authors through freebies that i then go on to buy lots from them …so i think it works if they writing is good and the ebook price reasonable.

    • Frances Caballo

      You make a great point. Free books are a vehicle for discoverability, especially for new authors.

  3. Ernie Zelinski

    I have given away over 13,000 copies of the print editions of my books over the years, mainly to friends, waitresses at restaurants, foreign publishers, corporations, important business people, and the media. But I don’t use Amazon KSP and have never given away the ebook editions of my books. I have a theory that the people who get books for free or take them out of the library are more likely to give books a negative review. These words have stuck with for a long time:

    “People that pay for things never complain.
    It’s the guy you give something to that you can’t please.”
    — Will Rogers

    • C. S. Lakin

      Ernie, I think that’s really changed a lot! Most people read ebooks now, and when I do a free promo, on Bookbub, for example, and see 50,000 free downloads of my book over a few days, that results in thousands of paid sales of that book and others in my series, as well as a ton of great reviews.

      My honest feeling: if you write a terrific book, you are going to get great reviews, whether a person gets that book for free or pays for it. You will always still get a tiny number of “bad” reviews–everyone does, regardless. But while Will Rogers was a smart man, he lived in a different time. We are now in the era of giving away lots of free things. I give away a ton of free content every day online (so does Frances). We bloggers can attest to the wonderful results that come with giving away for free. We build trust, fans, tribe, sales, etc.

    • Frances Caballo

      Ernie: I understand your reluctance about promoting ebooks for free. However, I agree with Susanne for the most part. Do people who receive services for free use them? Sometimes they don’t. Do people who download free books really read them? I think it depends on the author and the book itself. I’ve bought paperbacks that take sit on my desk for six months or longer before I read them. But I eventually do read them and whether I receive a book for free or I pay for it, I’m going to leave a great review if I like the book.

  4. Vicky Adin

    I used to have my books on Smashwords and other platforms, but didn’t sell a single book through those outlets. I am now with Amazon KSP and get regular cheques for both sales and reading.

    Having said that, I write historical fiction stories set in New Zealand about immigrants and the ups and downs of their lives (with a considerable degree of fiction licence to add action), which is a hard genre to get noticed never mind which platform I choose.

    • Frances Caballo

      Vicky: It takes time to build a dedicated readership but once you do, you’ll see a bump in sales when a free promotion ends.

  5. Michael N. Marcus

    I’m in the publishing business to sell books, not to give away freebies.

    I’ll provide freebies to reviewers and a few friends and relatives, and I post free samples online. But if a ‘normal’ person wants to read one of my complete books, it has to be paid for.

    I can’t get a free Ferrari, iPhone or pair of Nikes to help me decide of I want to buy.

  6. P. H. Solomon

    I’ve been using AskDavid for regular tweets and showing steady sales growth results. The key is to use if often and make sure to use only your Amazon book link. I’ve tried a few of the ones listed but I’m interested in some of the others too. I don’t do KU/KSP at all – I refused to be exclusive and hope to grow sales with other retailers.

  7. Cat Michaels

    Super helpful pros and cons, Frances and Joel. My plan is to stay on Select for 90 days to take advantage of its count-down deals/promos and then expand my market channels. And yes…. I am guilty of downloading e-books and leaving them unread. I try paging through for a quick read and returning for a ‘real’ read. Hope that ‘counts!’

    • Frances Caballo

      Cat: I’m so glad you liked the post and found my impressions helpful. I’m pulling my books out of Select once the 90 days are up as well. But the program gives me a chance to distribute free books, which as an indie author myself I think is important to do.

  8. Cindy Rinaman Marsch

    I’ve been published for only a matter of months (historical novel in January, related short story in June) and have been experimenting with the different promotional possibilities. By far most of my sales are made during Kindle Countdown promotions (just started my third today), and I’ve experimented with free only with the 99-cent short story, which I consider my “loss leader” and funnel to the novel, though both stand alone just fine.

    I think for experimentation purposes you have to eliminate variables or have reliable trackback. If you just pile up all the promotions (before you have a sense of how each one works), you may be duplicating exposure, overpaying, and unable to tell what’s working. My method is to launch a Countdown Campaign for the full week and announce to my social media and email list that day, then schedule paid promotions for Day 2, Day 4, and Day 6 (of course this takes advance planning). Then I can see how each works. This time I’m adding some Amazon in-house advertising to run the last three days of the Countdown AND the first three days afterwards.

    In my experience EReaderCafe and FussyLibrarian earned me back at least what I’d spent on advertising, and they helped get my ranking up. FreeBooksy got me 2500 downloads of my free short story, with a very clear link to sales once it was back at “paid” status and a synergy with sales and page reads for my novel, keeping it at a stable rank for over two months. (The key is getting the ranking high enough to keep it visible.) I’m trying BargainBooksy in my current Countdown campaign. EReaderNewsToday has been my big winner so far, with over 200 buys attributable to that promotion. I look forward to using them again after more time has passed.

    • Frances Caballo

      Cindy: You make an excellent point: it’s best not to pile up the promotions so you can determine which ones work best. I also discovered through my Goodreads group that EReaderNewsToday is the best and I plan to use that one for my big book that I’ll release at the end of the year. I’ll be interested in seeing how it does. I really like how you’re approaching this area of marketing. I wish you continued success.

    • C. S. Lakin

      The only paid advertising I do is Bookbub and Facebook ads. And now that I see author friends making high six figures and passing a million a year due to FB ads, that’s where all my research and money and time will be spent over the next year.

      • Florence Osmund

        Are there any links you can share on how to get the most from Facebook Ads?

  9. David Penny

    I’m confused when you say enrolling in KSP means you are paid by pages read, not books sold. I am in KSP and I make two-thirds of my income from the sale of books, the other third from page reads.

    I tried wide and lost so much income I came back into the fold of Amazon :) It’s not right for everyone, and a personal choice, but for me it works well.

    • C. S. Lakin

      Yes you get paid for the sales AND the page reads. And I make at least $1,000 per month off a sale of a hundred books off page reads. I’d say my page reads are at least ten times my book sales so being in Select is a no-brainer!

      • Frances Caballo

        Susanne: Great to see you here. Your book sales rock! Always great to hear about your successes.

      • Florence Osmund

        I’ve had the same experience with KSP, Susanne. My goal is to have 1,000 pages read per day per book, but following a free promo, it’s typical to have 10-20,000 pages read per day, and I even had 100,000 pages read per day following one particularly successful promotion. Yep–no-brainer.

    • Linda M. Au

      This is precisely what I came here to say. I’ve always been in KSP (and KU once it started), since 2010. Most of my royalties come from pages read (by far), but it doesn’ mean I don’t get book sales (both print and Kindle editions). To say “you’re not paid by book sales but by pages read” is terribly misleading and inaccurate.

      Nothing changes about how your books are sold via Amazon. I know some successful thriller writer friends who’ve tried “going wide” to other outlets but came back to the Amazon fold because their Amazon/Kindle sales versus other venues were at least 50 to 1. And coming back meant they had access to promotions, etc., again and fared even better.

      • Frances Caballo

        Linda: Thank you for your comments. I’m going to follow Joanna Penn’s advice in the future and go wide. I will always have my books available on Amazon but there are other viable platforms, including Kobo, iBooks, and Smashwords. Granted, Amazon has the market cornered but I think other platforms are worth trying. And I can always offer some of my books for free, regardless of KDP Select. But I do understand the value of KDP Select and for that matter, Kindle Unlimited.



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