Self-publishing is all about experimentation. What works, what doesn't. So far I've tried many many different drivers to spur sales.

  • Pay-per-click advertising
  • Display advertising
  • Social networking
  • "Loyalty transferring" blog posts
  • Targeting other books to piggy-back sales on …
That list goes on and on.

Some have been modestly successful. Some only a little. It turns out that so far the best promotion I've done has been–without a doubt–giving the book away for free. Yes, giving away a free book generated the most amount of sales.

Let me explain.

It was a trial run: use Amazon's new "promotions" opportunity to make The Marinara Murders free for 24 hours. But I decided to do it and not tell anyone about it. How many people would just find the book and download it? How would it move up in the stores? My plan was: get some people to buy the book, figuring that some percentage of them will go on to buy The Saints Go Dying.

So last Saturday I made it free. Midnight to midnight.

I nearly had a heart attack when I woke up to find 141 downloads of the book, considering that I'd had 4 sales to-date in December. It went up by 30 or 40 an hour–in the US. Halfway through the day I remembered UK sales, and discovered I'd given away another 100 books there.

All in all, I gave away 580 copies of The Marinara Murders. I was shocked. Mary was shocked. It started to get a little scary. (I distinctly recall her shouting, as I rounded 300 downloads "Shut it down! Shut it down!")

By Sunday the new question was, "ok, I gave away 580 copies of my book … what now?" Did I just give away hundreds of books and get nothing in exchange? Or will something come of this?

By Monday, sales suddenly surged. See the graph above. After the initial publication, when I emailed friends and family, basically the book dropped to just a handful of sales per week. And then the week after I made it free, I sold more copies than I'd sold in that first week.

Basically, what seems to have happened is that those 580 downloads triggered a pretty massive change in the computer algorithms of Amazon as it related to my book. I went from very little linkages to other books in the system to a whole ton of them. Suddenly, The Marinara Murders showed up very prominently on the "Customers Also Bought" lists of a lot of other books.

Not only that, but sales of The Saints Go Dying seem to be picking up as well, because some of those people who read The Marinara Murders must be getting to the end, reading the first chapter of The Saints Go Dying, and buying that book as well.

I have no idea if these effects will last. It's possible that they will wear off over the next week or two as I get farther from the free day. And it's also possible they will create a virtuous cycle of sales. (fingers crossed). We'll see.

But it's a pretty interesting datapoint: giving it away for free for one day generated more sales in the next week than I'd had in any other week to date.