The Power of the Free Book

Yesterday I did a BookBarbarian promo.  I bought the Top Free spot.  I think it cost me $60 bucks.

I gave away over 900 copies.

Many writers are groaning, lately, about the free book giveaway sites and newsletters.  The treasure hunters and unsubs. It’s all so hard.  People are starting to drop off the Amazon gold rush of write-a-book-and-become-Andy-Weir.  Good.  They were in it for all the wrong reasons.  You write because you love to tell stories.  The most success you can have is that someone had a good time with your books.  Anything other than that is bonus.

So do the Free Book giveaways work?

Here’s a review from an Amazon customer, left two days ago, on a book I gave away last month:

“This author is a jerk, he does terrible things to his readers, and I have a genuine grudge against him.

I first started reading his books because I enjoy science fiction, and his name happened to come up. He does excellent science fiction. Soda Pop Soldier is a masterpiece of tension and believable dystopian fiction. As I wanted to read more it became apparent that his main thing is zombies and particularly zombie survival, that genre that takes zombie jump-scare movies and turns it into a wrenching, personal experience.

I hate zombies. I hate zombie survival. This is my least favorite genre. It’s miserable and bleak, uninteresting at best and tedious at worst. But I gritted my teeth and agreed to try one of his zombie books because it was free. The worst part was that I actually enjoyed it, The Red King. This author took the worst genre and made a story that not only interested me, but ensnared my attention and held me captivated throughout.

I hated that. I hate zombies. I don’t want to be that guy who suggests another tired zombie-genre work to someone. But at least The Red King had guns and action, it was about a crew coming together and overcoming the odds to become badass zombie killers. With a castle. Cool.

So I pick up another of his books, this one. Again, he made it free. At least I’m not spending money on zombie trash, I tell myself. In this book, he drags his readers through a zombie apocalypse but this time from the perspective of innocent bystanders with no special skills. They’re not destined to become badass zombie slayers wielding automatic shotguns with chainsaw bayonets. These are tired, scared, sad people who are at least as worried about their own survival in a grisly war zone as they are about the damaged relationship with the person they love and have wronged, and reconnecting with them even just one last time to set things right.

This is a love story, the most savage and unbearable and uncomfortable and miserable, cowardly, dirty, corpse-shoveling, mass-grave, human catastrophe love story I’ve yet read. The love comes through brighter and brighter the worse the story gets. Through a lens saturated in vividly realized post-traumatic stress disorder, we see two people with genuine love work to make contact across a waking nightmare in a world gone mad.

I resented this author for making me care so much about a story set in a genre I hate, with two of the most human characters I’ve ever encountered. The voices are devastatingly, heartbreakingly, triumphantly genuine.

The ending is satisfying. No spoilers here. Leading up to it, I wondered strongly how it could possibly be okay. A cheesy sort of “Surprise, everything’s okay!” twist? An artsy ending with no resolution? Bleak and horrible, unbearable and unendurable in its condemnation of hope? None of these. Hopeful, and triumphant. Like I said, satisfying.

This author made me genuinely care about characters in a genre I hate, twice. Not sure I can forgive him for that. But I sure as hell am gonna pick up that next zombie book of his, The Dark Knight. I’m even paying money for it, for zombie trash. I’m not sure how to feel about that. But I’ve trusted him this far, may as well finish the ride. Maybe I’ll hate this one and be free to loathe the genre again.”

So yeah… Free Book giveaways work.  BookBarbarian worked.  And… I’m trying a new site doing something totally not done by anyone else next month.  I’m in on their ground floor and I’ll be back to let you know how it is.

Until then… upvote that awesome reader who was kind enough to dig a book I wrote.  That was the success I was looking for.  All the rest is bonus.

UPVOTE Adam’s Review on Amazon!


About Nick Cole

Nick Cole is a working actor living in Southern California. When he is not auditioning for commercials, going out for sitcoms or being shot, kicked, stabbed or beaten by the students of various film schools for their projects, he can often be found as a guard for King Phillip the Second of Spain in the Opera Don Carlo at Los Angeles Opera or some similar role. Nick Cole has been writing for most of his life and acting in Hollywood after serving in the U.S. Army. You can also find him on Twitter.

9 Responses to The Power of the Free Book

  1. Thanks for the heads up on BookBarbarian!
    I too got hooked on your books by reading “The Red King” for free.
    Now, I have all your books and Audibles too.

  2. LOL! Baen free books have cost me so much money. When you have good authors, the “Here kid, the first one’s free” is a great marketing strategy.

    I loved CTRL-ALT-Revolt!

    My main problem right now is finding the time to read all the great books I’ve got stashed on my Kindle.

  3. Interesting–do you do that with all your books eventually? I wonder whether you’re conditioning your readers to wait until you drop or erase the price for a limited time. I see this method being used on serials where the first issue is free to lure readers to pay money for the sequel.

    • If possible, it is a good idea to stack ads for free books sequentially about 24 hours apart. Amazon also has a Velocity ranking for each book, and a book’s sales rank from yesterday contributes to its sales rank today. So if a book has a separate ad on Monday, and then Tuesday, and then Wednesday, the book will be able to draw on a stronger rank from the previous day to reach a higher position on the chart, thereby giving away more free copies.

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