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Perma-Free Books: How To Make Them Work For You

Updated: May 2, 2023

How can you make a perma-free book work for you and help you sell other books?

I'll tell you in a minute.

But first, let's look at a few things that you need to know whether or not your book is free.

1. Know your audience.

Do you know who your readers are?

I find many authors don't know who their audience is. They aren't even sure of what categories their books should be in or what genre their book is. You don't want to list your book as a Romantic Suspense only to find out your book doesn't have the tropes for that, and instead should be classified as Suspense.

If you aren't sure who your audience is, you may end up marketing to the wrong readers. And that is like marketing to an empty room.

2. Advertise.

It takes time to have success wide. You have to build up each sales platform, and some may take longer than others. And I am sorry to say for those of you who think ORGANIC is the only way you want to operate...that won't work as a wide author. Or any author or business, for that matter.

You have to advertise. Some way or fashion. Whether it is on sites like Written Word (Freebooksy or Bargain Booksy) or Fussy Librarian, Amazon, Facebook, Bookbub, Twitter, or Google, these costs should be considered as part of your self-publishing expenses. Even though you need to advertise your free book, you don't want to lose your shirt. Learning how to use the different platforms will help keep your costs down and drive sales to your other books.

3. Build an email list. Start collecting sign-ups now.

If you ever find yourself at the mercy of Amazon or Facebook, your advertising, books, or pages, may disappear or be blocked or who knows what. Having your own list will allow you to at least reach your readers and salvage sales.

This is a must. Having a list you can control, will keep you afloat in the long run

Now what about perma-free?

What is perma-free? It's listing a book for free at all outlets. If you are only on Amazon, in KU, you can only list your book free when the Zon let's you. However, being wide, most other retailers allow free books. By listing wide, Amazon usually follows suit and will price match when asked.

Before I even get into this strategy, I want to make it clear that I only advertise book 1 in any series. Whether it is free or full price. And - this strategy may not work for everyone. It's a tool in your author toolbox. Another way to market your books. Several factors go into whether or not this strategy will work, and I will cover those. I do advertise my box sets.

The one thing I must stress, is I believe the key to making a perma-free book work is - YOU MUST HAVE A SUCCESSFUL SERIES.

You can't just make your first in series free and let it ride. You have to do some math first...OMG the M word. Trust me, these steps are crucial before you even try this strategy. This will also help you determine if you have a viable series or if you need to make changes to make it successful.

So how do you know if you have a successful series? Check your cumulative series read through rate, your book to book read through rate, and your sales read through rate. How do you figure all those out? You could read a post I wrote on the very subject here. But to save you some time, I have listed the formulas below.

Cumulative series read through rate formula:

(last #book sales/first #book sales) x 100.

This will tell you the percentage of readers reading from book 1 to the last book.

Book to book read through rate formula:

(#Book 2 Sales/#Book 1 Sales) x 100

To figure out the next book use (#Book 3 Sales/#Book 2 Sales) x 100.

This formula will tell you if you have a drop off of readers from one book to another.

I suggest reading the earlier post for a more in-depth breakdown of read through rates. However, the key factor here is, if you are losing readers along the way, you want to fix that. In other words, if a huge number of readers are going from book 1 to book 2, but then you have a drop off from 3 and beyond, you have a problem. You want to address this and try to fix it. There are things you can do to help rectify this before you scrap the series and I go over those in the earlier post.

About now I bet you are freaking out...advertise a free book, that's crazy. Why would you do this? Advertising a free book is throwing money away!

NO, it isn't. If your read through rate is good.

See, for every sale of book 1, you make money above and beyond just the royalty rate for that book 1 sale, due to the sales of other books in the series. (I also cover this in the other post.)

This is a crucial step before making your first in series free. Below is the formula for SALES read through rate: (This determines what amount your book 1 is worth based on sales of the other books in the series.)

(#Book 2 sales/#Book 1 sales) X royalty rate

(#Books 3 sales/#Book 1 sales) X royalty rate (ALWAYS DIVIDE BY BOOK 1 SALES)

Royalty rate can be found on your Amazon KDP dashboard or from your aggregate or other sales platforms. It's your royalty rate less delivery charges for the ebook.

Let's plug in a few numbers using the SALES read through rate:

(250/350) X $2.05 = $1.46

Based on the numbers, for every book 1 sold, an additional $1.46 is earned on top of the royalty rate...based on the read through numbers for book 2. Do this same calculation for every book in your series. Then add those numbers together. Remember always divide by book 1.

The total amount is what your book 1 nets every time you have someone read through your series. It's not voodoo, I promise.

I suggest you use at least 3 months of data to calculate all of these figures. In the other post, I show you how to do this if you are in Kindle Unlimited. It uses a different formula.

Once you figure out if your series is successful - you've determined readers are buying book 1 and then moving on to books 2 and beyond, you have a high read through rate (consensus is 65% or more) - then you may want to give the perma-free strategy a try.

Will every person who downloads your free book go on to read the rest of your series? No. That's okay though. Your read through rate proves that more than not, people are reading through your series. Knowing these numbers also let's you know how much money you can spend on advertising that free book before you start the process.

I use my free first in series book to leverage sales of my other books. Since I have had book 1 as a perma-free book, my sales for all books in this series have more than tripled.

Word of caution. When you give book 1 away, it is going to make read through rate from book 1 to 2 look horrible. This is due to the sheer number of people who download a free book. I no longer calculate my read through from book 1 to 2. Instead, I use book 2 and beyond. My read through rate for my Damien Kaine series is above 80%. Which tells me people are reading from book 2 on. My sales are also a clear indicator that my perma-free book is driving readers to the other books in my series. Making my perma-free book well worth it.

Side Note: I recently ran a BookBub on my perma-free book. Over the first two days, I had over 40k in downloads. (This ran on April 1st. By the time I wrote this post, April 28, I have had over 70k in downloads and earned well over what I made last month.)

To keep this momentum going, (I did this prior to the BookBub ad), I run monthly free and paid newsletter promos. (This I will do every month, and I plan on running another BookBub at the end of this year.)

Perma-free works. Not always, and not for everyone. Find what works for you. 99 cent books never worked for me. Perma-free does. At least for right now. Is it a set and forget? No. I will have to keep tweaking this? Yes.

Some key points to keep in mind:

1. You must have good covers. If you can't make your own, buy pre-made or pay someone to make them for you.

2. You must have good blurbs. If you can't write one, I suggest reading Bryan Cohen's book Sizzling Synopsis. It breaks down the process of how to write a blurb in easy to follow steps.

3. In your back matter link to the next book. Possibly provide a few chapters or a hook to entice readers to buy book 2.

4. When listing your book as perma-free, start with other retailers. Wait for the listing to post as free, then contact Amazon. They have a form in the KDP dashboard to request a price match. Check your Amazon listing and make sure the prices haven't reverted back to full. They like to put the price back to full regularly....sometimes right before a big sales promo. So get in the habit of checking your listing.

5. My biggest suggestion, set up book pages on your website. List all the stores and links to them where people can purchase the book. Check out any of my book pages and you can see how I set it up. Get in a habit of linking to your website for your books. A few reasons for this. First, some links you create using other sites may break, and you won't know until it's too late. Second, driving traffic to your website will help you build your subscriber list. Three, you control your website.

For me, using trackable links isn't worth the risk of having one of those links not work and me not know about until a reader tells me. Also, I don't need to know how many people are clicking through to either Apple or Amazon. My Sales tell me that. Instead, I use Google Analytics to track the traffic on my website. I can see exactly what pages are clicked, day and time, and from what country. I have certain links in the back of my books, so I can see which of those are being clicked more than others.

If you need some help with your wide platform and don't know where to turn, there is a group on Facebook I encourage you to join, called Wide for the Win. I love this group. I have learned so much from wonderful authors. There are so many ways to sell and promote your books wide. The knowledge from other authors here is off the charts. Consider joining.

Another group to join is Bryan Cohen's Selling for Authors. There you can get help with your blurbs, covers, and find great information for the entire publishing and selling process.

You can also reach out to me. I don't charge to help others. I pay it forward by helping. When I first started out, I didn't have anyone to ask questions. I did a lot of research, but I often thought if I could ask a person a question (and not have to pay for it) I could've saved myself a lot of problems...I was way poor then...still am, LOL! (I have teens going to college soon.) So just ask. I'll help.

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