The Highs and Lows of Doing A Kindle Book Free Promotion

The Highs and Lows of Doing A Kindle Book Free Promotion

Giving stories away for free is one method authors can use to boost their visibility on Amazon – but you can have mixed results doing it. It really is a last resort because you never know what will happen.

I have one title that proves this perfectly. It’s a horror collection called The Bone Yard and Other Stories, which reached #3 in the UK Horror Anthology list this week.

The Bone Yard and Other Stories reaches #3 in the UK Amazon chart.
The Bone Yard and Other Stories reaches #3 in the UK Amazon chart.

About two years ago it was not selling – so I signed it up to KDP Select. My first promotion gave away about 300 copies in the US and a 100 in the UK. It started to sell afterwards in a roughly three-to-one ratio – exactly what you’d expect given the number of downloads. It continued to sell steadily for months in small numbers, but it received no reviews in either region. Since the free promotion had worked, I repeated it. Sales received a boost as a result. I started to earn my some reasonable money from Amazon – but sales eventually tailed off.

On Halloween in 2012, I did a third free promotion.

That resulted in my first reviews in the US and UK. Both reviews were five-stars. Great! I hoped that would help sales. I expected sales to be boosted in a 3/1 ratio based on the download ratio – but something very weird happened.

The next day after the five-star review appeared in the US my sales stopped. Completely. Looking at the chart on Author Central, it was like seeing a lemming dive off a cliff. My book’s ranking plummeted. Weeks went by without selling a single copy. Then months. Then a whole year.

I was baffled and dismayed. What had happened?

Meanwhile, my sales were improving in the UK where the first review was by an Amazon Top 500 reviewer. That made me wonder if that first US review had done the damage. Some people think reviews don’t effect sales – but I had solid proof that they did. That five-star review in the US killed my book on the day it appeared. I studied it to figure out why. The US reviewer did not go into specifics about why they liked my book. It was the sort of review you’d be suspicious of because the reviewer had not written many reviews – unlike the prolific Top 500 reviewer in the UK. Though that US reviewer was well-meaning and genuinely enjoyed reading my book, I wished they had not written it because my book would have been better off without it. Unfortunately, Amazon’s US customers assumed my five-star rating was a fake. It certainly looked like it. Cautious customers avoided buying my book at its pre-promo price of $1.99 price and even when I dropped it to $0.99.

Later on, I did another freebie to try to get some more US reviews – but that resulted in a troll posting a 1-star review based solely on the cover picture. They had definitely not read the book when they reviewed it. They posted the review minutes after downloading it. That gave my book an unhelpful 3-star average. Another person posted a four-star review soon after – but that made no difference to sales.

That book has not sold one copy in the US since that first five-star review. It doesn’t even appear on the first page of results when you type the search words “bone yard” into Amazon. Books without those words in the title appear first.

In contrast to that negative experience, the same book did well in the UK thanks to that first five-star review by a respected reviewer. The Bone Yard and Other Stories is currently in the Top Ten UK horror anthologies, where I am pleased to see it reached number three last week. It just proves that reviews matter a lot more than some people think!




Author: John Moralee

John Moralee writes crime, horror and science fiction.

7 thoughts on “The Highs and Lows of Doing A Kindle Book Free Promotion”

  1. Wow, that is an amazing story, and a tale of caution. Do you think you are more likely to get more reviews from low rated reviewers during a free book promotion than during a 99 cent sale?

    I would think this is a good reason to give promotional copies to reviewers with blogs and sites in return for an honest review. Most of them have high amazon ratings with many reviews posted.


    1. An interesting question! I think you can’t avoid getting more reviews from every level of reviewer during a free book promo. You will get the enthusiastic and occasional readers in your genre – plus some people grabbing it simply because it is free. A 99 cent sale eliminates the latter group from downloading your book – but you won’t get as many downloads. I know Amazon have the new Countdown Deal thing – which is supposed to generate a buying frenzy. I tried it with a book set at the standard £2.99 lowered to $0.99. It sold no copies. (I wasn’t surprise. I couldn’t even find it listed on the Countdown Deal page on Amazon during the promo period.) Setting your price at 99 cents permanently seems to be the way to get reviews from genuine customers. If they think they’ve got a bargain, they might be more likely to post a review. It’s a slow process – but definitely more effective than a risky free promo.

      Your suggestion about giving promo copies to reviewers with solid reputations is the best solution to the problem of getting good first reviews. I’ve never contacted a reviewer to ask them to review my titles because it would make me feel like a cold caller – but if you have and it worked for you please let me know!


      1. I don’t have access to sales info on the title I “cold-called” book reviewers for, but the response is generally very friendly, as long as you follow their guidelines. There are a bunch of places to go looking, but checking out “The Indie View” is a good place to start (even if they are a little outdated as a list). I sent out about 36 emails, and got roughly 10 bites for a horror antho, 8 of which resulted in a review. 🙂


      2. No problem at all. 🙂 Another place to check is Twitter. Just search book reviews and looks for users with websites.

        Good luck!


    1. It is bizarre – but it happened. My book stopped selling in the US immediately after that first five-star review. It used to be my bestselling title. It still is in the UK. Another five-star review appeared recently – by a customer in the UK posting their review on both websites – but that made no difference to US sales.


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