How to Publish a Free Book on Amazon

I had someone ask me how to publish a free book on Amazon today. It came as a bit of a shock. I learned how to do this so long ago, and it’s such second nature to me, that it was almost beyond my ability to understand how someone didn’t already know it.

But actually, it’s kind of a technique. It only seems second nature because I’ve learned it and done it so often. Like when you learn how to properly light a subject in photography or film. After your first few times, you assume EVERYONE knows how to do it. But they don’t.

And so, since people don’t automatically know how to publish a free ebook on Amazon, here’s how.

 

WHY PUBLISH A BOOK FOR FREE?

At first glance, you might not see the value in free. You’ve slaved over a piping hot keyboard to write your book. WHY would you give it away for free?

Well, it’s all about generating leads.Let’s face it: people like free stuff. And if they try a free sample of your writing and like it, they’re more likely to want to keep reading—and if they have to pay for your other books, you make money.

It’s not a perfect system. Statistically, only about 10% of all free book downloads ever even get read. There are lots of people who go and download books because they’re free, but then they never get around to actually…you know…reading them. And then, even if your free book does get read, there’s no guarantee the person will like it. And if they read it, and they DO like it, they still might not be willing to pay money for the second one.

So, like I said: not a perfect system. However, even a small trickle of new readers is better than having all of your books sit stagnantly in the vast ether of Amazon.

I’ve published two free books of my own. The first is Realm Keepers: Episode One. Realm Keepers is my big YA fantasy book series. It’s a serialized novel—each episode is about 20,000 words. So I give them Episode One for free, and then encourage them to buy Episode Two in the back of the book. Subsequent episodes are a buck each, or they can buy episode volumes if they want to buy in bulk. This is a great method of lead gen and generates me a nice stream of sales.

My other free book is Shut the Fuck Up and Create Your Fucking Art. It’s non-fiction, a motivational ebooklet telling people to get busy with whatever art it is that they do. It’s not similar to anything else I’ve written. Why did I make it free? Because it’s super short (less than 10,000 words) and because it was originally a blog article on this site. If they can read it for free on my site, it seems stupid to make them pay a buck for it at Amazon.

Both of these free ebooks get a few dozen downloads a day. It’s impossible for me to track how many of those free downloads eventually turn into sales—but since my books keep selling, I’m happy to leave things the way they are. If you’d like to try either one yourself, you can get them here:

Click to download for free

Click to download for free

TWO METHODS

There are two methods I’ve used to publish a book for free on Amazon: The Smashwords method and the Price-Match method.

SMASHWORDS IS SATAN

I’m dead serious. I’m pretty sure Smashwords.com is in league with the devil somehow. I have never had as many problems with ANY website as I have had with Smashwords. There’s no qualifications to that statement. They reject books for no reason. Their own tutorials about how to make a book ready for publication on their website don’t result in books that they will accept on their own fucking website. They also apparently have no standards for what they will or will not accept for publication, because every time I visit I’m assaulted with book images and titles like Daddy Rapes the Virgin Daughter in the Attic and shit—the exact same kind of thing that caused Kobo to be wrongfully accused of peddling smut to minors recently.

Many people have published many books through Smashwords, so I know I don’t speak for everyone. And I will say this—if you publish a free book with them, they’ll get it to Amazon for free. Weeks later. Maybe months. Or maybe never. If they’ll accept your book. If it doesn’t fail their epub check, followed by them telling you to verify your epub with validator.idpf.org, who says your book is 100% compliant, and then Smashwords rejects it again. And then good luck getting download reports if you DO get your book up through their ugly-ass, horribly designed, least user-friendly website IN THE FUCKING WORLD.

Seriously. Fuck those guys. I will never, ever, ever recommend that ANYONE uses Smashwords.

PRICE-MATCH FTW!

Price Match! Yay! Rescue me from the terribleness of that other site!

Here’s the deal with Amazon. They have a deal where if your book is listed at a lower price on another website, they will price match it. Now, this is a tricky process to make work for you. But you can make it work for you.

First of all, publish your book to Kindle on Amazon for $0.99. Or whatever price you want. Actually, it may be better to mark it up at a higher price. That’s because Amazon will always show the original price of your book, and then show the marked-down free price. This strikes people as a better deal. If they see a $4.99 book that’s marked down to free, it may be more appealing than a $0.99 book marked down to free.

Next, publish your book for free on other platforms. The best way to do this is individually. KoboBooks.com allows you to publish free books straight up. They’re also EXTREMELY easy to publish with. If publishing with Smashwords is riding to work on a bus full of lepers, and publishing with Amazon is driving a nice new Honda Accord to work, publishing with Kobo is heading to work in a Ferrari on the Autobahn.

You can also publish to Kobo AND the iBookstore for free via the website Draft2Digital.com. Draft2Digital is an aggregator. This means they take your book and publish it to multiple sites for you—and they don’t charge you anything for the service, they only take a tiny percentage of your royalties. They’re like Smashwords except they’re better in EVERY SINGLE WAY except for one—they won’t publish directly to Amazon for free. But you can use them to put your book on Kobo and Apple for free.

Okay, so once your book is published (paid) to Amazon, and published (free) to Kobo and Apple, now we hit the tricky part. You’ve got to report to Amazon that your book is free on other sites. Here’s how. Go to your book page on Amazon. Right at the bottom, you’ll see a link titled “tell us about a lower price.”

Product Description

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Click on that link, and a window will come up where you can report your book’s lower site on another platform. Simply fill in the fields and click submit.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image

That’s it!

Well…

THAT’S NOT REALLY IT

Here’s the thing: Amazon won’t just leap to attention the second you tell them your book is free elsewhere. But the more times it’s reported, and the more people report it, the faster they’ll adjust the price on their site.

For this reason, I highly recommend you post on Facebook and shoot an email to your email list. Ask your friends and readers to help you out. Give them very simple 1, 2, 3 instructions on how to report the lower price to Amazon. And if they comply, offer them a free version of your book. Shoot it to them in an email if they report the lower price for you. Every time I’ve published a free book, I reach out in this way. I usually get the price matched within a couple of days. But if you don’t reach out, it can take weeks or even months. Again, the more people that report your book, the better.

I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful. Don’t overestimate what free can do for you. It’s helpful, but it’s not the be-all-end-all. It’s fantastic for series books. If the first book in a series is free, you’ll be encouraging hundreds or thousands of readers to give the rest of the series a shot. But even with a free first book, it can take a lot of work to get your series off the ground and making the kind of money you want to be making.

But this is a good start.

Garrett Robinson

Over 100,000 readers have read and loved Garrett's books, like the fantasy hits Nightblade and Midrealm. He's also a film festival favorite with movies like Unsaid, and a tech guru who posts lots of helpful how-tos for writers and filmmakers over at garrettbrobinson.com.

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2 comments
Crissy Moss
Crissy Moss

Also... it doesn't always work. Sometimes you'll report it a lot, or you'll ask friends to report it to, and they just won't match the price. There isn't much you can do about it but try getting it up in other places so you can report it some more.

Carl Sinclair
Carl Sinclair

Get it up as many places as you can. Get it reported but also make sure your descriptions match. This isn't a person matching it. It's a bot. The bot may not see the other book if your description is different on different sites.

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