When you’re independently published, it can be hard to get the word out about your book because most indie authors don’t have a big advertising budget.
Free-Pulsing is a disruptive, guerilla-marketing technique for promoting your book on the cheap.
To teach us how to use this strategy, I interviewed fantasy author, Jamie Foley. She is terrified of plot holes and red wasps, but she loves strategy games, home-grown berries, and Texas winters.
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: Jamie, what is free-pulsing?
What is free-pulsing?
Jamie Foley: Free-pulsing assumes you have a way to mark down your book to free on Amazon for one day at a time. Generally, it means your book is enrolled in the KDP Select program because that’s the easiest way to mark your book for free.
For that one day, while it’s free, you pay a marketing site, like BookBub or Robin Reads, to promote it to their email list on that single day. The next day, it goes back to full price.
On the day it’s free, the deal is emailed to many people who download it for free. The next day, when the rest of the people open their email, they see the book and realize it sounds like a great read. They go to Amazon and find out that the free deal is over. But since the regular price is only $2.99, they go ahead and pay full price for it because it sounds like a good book.
Free-pulsing is a marketing technique that makes money off procrastinators. Click to Tweet
Thomas: What is the difference between KDP, Amazon’s independent publishing platform, and KDP Select?
Jamie: With KDP Select, you give Amazon exclusive rights to sell your ebook. That means you can’t sell your book on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, or even as a PDF on your website. Amazon is very serious about not allowing competition for their KDP Select titles.
But having your book enrolled in KDP Select gives you access to their Kindle Unlimited (KU) program. KU is an online library where 150 million members can read your book for free by paying Amazon a subscription fee.
Thomas: KU is like Netflix for books. There are also some marketing advantages when you enroll your book in KDP Select. In exchange for being exclusive with Kindle, they let you publish your book for free.
Jamie: They also let you offer your book for free for five days in those 90 days that you’re enrolled. You also have the option to run a Countdown Deal.
The biggest advantage of being enrolled in the KDP Select program and having your book available in KU is that when people “rent” your book from the KU library, it tracks how many pages of your book they read. Then Amazon pays you by the number of pages that are read.
At first, I didn’t think this would be a big deal for me, but my Kindle Page Reads account for a lot of the money I make as an independent author.
Thomas: It works well if your book is long, and if you’re a good writer. If you write short, boring books, you won’t get paid for many pages.
Who can make the most money from the free-pulsing technique?
Jamie: Authors with a series of longer books in KU can do well with the program. I write fantasy from 70,000-100,000 words per novel. When you give away the first book for free, people will buy that book on the day after your free promotion. They’ll also buy the next books in your series at full price because you’re an awesome writer, and it’s an awesome series.
Thomas: There are two ways you make money from your free promotion days in KU.
First, you can make money off the procrastinators who get the email from BookBub but don’t buy it until the deal is done and it’s full price again.
Second, the thousands of people who read the book for free go on to buy books two and three.
Another way to take advantage of the opportunity is to write a prequel to the series. Readers will get book one for free. They pay for books two and three. When they discover you have a free prequel on your website, they will sign up for your email newsletter. Then you’ll have their email address, so when you release a new book, you’ll be able to have a really good launch.
Jamie: You also make money on the pages read. When KU members go to Amazon to download your book for free, Amazon is so aggressive about marketing their Kindle Unlimited program that they will replace the “Buy Now” button with the “Kindle Unlimited” button. If they click that instead, they still get the book free, but you get paid for the pages they read.
What is the best strategy for using your five free days in KDP Select?
Thomas: What is your strategy for using your free days?
Jamie: First, I figure out which promotion sites work best for my genre. I use Book Barbarian because I write fantasy, and they only promote fantasy and sci-fi.
Many other sites work well. BookBub is the biggest one, but it’s difficult to get accepted. You might want to submit to smaller sites like Book Cave. You can select your specific genre, and for $14-15, you’ll get about 500 downloads of your book, which is great for that price.
If you pay in the $50 range, you should expect 1,000 downloads of your book. Not all those people will read your book. There are a lot of packrats out there who download books and never read them. But you will get more sales.
Thomas: The idea is that you start with smaller sites to garner book reviews. As you give away your book for free, those freebie readers will review your book. It’s hard to hit an author with a one-star review if you’ve received the book for free.
Once you get more reviews, it’s more likely you’ll be accepted for a BookBub Featured Deal.
The smaller sites are like the minor leagues, and many times they are more focused by genre.
How can I plan my book promotions?
Jamie: It’s important to have a marketing plan in place. I have a 12-month calendar that spans my office, and I plan which of my books I will promote in which months throughout the year.
Generally, I schedule five weeks in a row on Wednesdays. Wednesdays work best for me because there seems to be less competition than on the weekends. Every Wednesday for five weeks, I’ll promote a certain book for free. That way, I can check my sales and see how many next-day sales I got. From there, I can learn which sites work best for me.
Thomas: When I was with Enclave Publishing, we used a similar technique called price-pulsing. We weren’t giving away as many books or free, but we might drop a book’s price from $10 to $2.99 and do a promotion through BookBub or another site.
We had a rolling calendar. We tracked each book and when it was promoted last on each site.
At the time, BookBub took submissions every 30 days, so we knew exactly when we could resubmit each book. It helps to have a calendar where you can plan it all out.
If you have four books, it’s easy and doesn’t take much time. Promote one book each week in a month.
How much time do you spend scheduling and free-pulsing your books?
Jamie: Once you have a spreadsheet with all the sites you’ve used and how they’ve performed in the past, it doesn’t take long to schedule. But I don’t generally do book one and then two. I scatter it out so that people who download book one for free will pay full price for book two. There is a little bit of figuring out how it works. So I’m not just free-pulsing my first book. I’m free-pulsing all my books at random (to readers) intervals.
Thomas: At Enclave, we spent most of our money price-pulsing book one in the series. We tracked the numbers. If we sold 100 of book one in a series, we knew it would sell 75 of book two. In contrast, a different series may sell 15 of book two.
We learned which authors were able to pull their readers through from book to book. The better your read-through rates are, the more money you’ll make.
Jamie: The prerequisite to all of this is that you have a great story, and you must know how to hook your readers and hold them through the entire series. Take them on an awesome journey where they’ll leave you great reviews.
What results does free-pulsing produce?
Thomas: What results have you seen from free-pulsing?
Jamie: A couple of weeks ago, I ran a one-day promotion on my first book, Sentinel, with Robin Reads. It was a featured promotion which is hard to get accepted for.
I’ve been using this method for a while, so I’ve built up 50 reviews on that book. It has a 4.5-star rating. I have an awesome cover designer, Kirk Dupont, so I was confident about my cover. I had over 2000 free downloads from that promotion. The next day, I had was about 43 full-price sales at $2.99 each. That price point is low enough that I’m also making 70% from Amazon. Those sales paid for the ad. Since then, I’ve been having 2,000-3,000 pages-read per day, which is about $10-20 per day in income.
Thomas: You spent $80 on a featured ad, and you made about $80 the next day. But you had all those readers who were “paying” for book two because they downloaded the Kindle book, and they are indirectly paying through Kindle Unlimited. You earn money from their page reads.
Essentially, you are buying readers for free. You spend $80 on ads, and you earn $80 the next day. Now you have all of those readers who know who you are.
It’s not actually a free way to market your book, but it’s a very inexpensive way to grow your readership. If you do this effectively with a $250 budget, you can spend it and get it back over and over to build your audience. Suddenly you have a platform of raving fans.
Jamie: That’s exactly what I do. I have a rolling budget of about $250. If you included BookBub in there, you might go as high as $500. If you use good sites, and your book is awesome, people will keep downloading it, and the process refuels itself.
Thomas: As we tracked the results from different sites, we found that even though BookBub was the most expensive, it was the cheapest cost per reader. Their list is so much bigger than everyone else’s. BookBub may cost $500 or $750 for an ad, but the price per reader was lower, and sometimes half the price. BookBub was a no-brainer for us.
Which sites have worked for your fantasy books?
Jamie: My favorite one is My Book Cave. I have about 20 different sites in a spreadsheet.
Thomas: You track your results by recording your number of sales on the day before the promotion. Then you record your number of sales on the day after the promotion.
If you normally have ten sales per day on a book, but you had 500 sales on the promotion day, you know you had a net of 490 sales from BookBub. The Key is to run one promotion per day. Do not run two promotions simultaneously because you won’t know which site is bringing you the promotions.
There is a strategy where you want them all to hit on the same day. One challenge is that it’s hard to get the different book sites to send the promotion on the same day because you have no control. You can only ask for a certain date and hope they send it.
Jamie: Some sites are more difficult than others, and some you have to plan four months in advance.
Thomas: The idea is to “pulse” the free promotion. You don’t want people to get used to it being free. You want it to seem to the reader that your book is free on random days, and that will draw more readers in. It’s really a way of borrowing someone else’s email list.
BookBub works because they have built a huge, targeted email list. You pay them for a spot in their daily email.
Jamie: Since my promotion last week, I’ve had five people sign up for my email list even though I’m not offering a book for free right now. I actually got in trouble with Amazon for offering my prequel on my website.
Thomas: So if you give away a prequel, it can’t be in KDP select. It’s best to make your prequel available only on your website, where they can only buy it with their email list. Your prequel should be offered exclusively on your website.
Jamie: I’m going to write a short story to use in that way because my prequel is 30,000 words, which is long enough to make money on its own in KU.
Free-pulsing and price-pulsing are strategies that work well for authors who want to write more books and build a readership. Free-pulsing in the KDP Select Program is a great way to achieve those goals.