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Kobo Writing Life Podcast

The Kobo Writing Life Podcast brings you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We feature interviews with bestselling authors and industry experts, who share practical advice you can use to improve your writing and sell more books. Hosted by the Kobo Writing Life team, you'll also get the latest news and updates about Kobo and the KWL platform. Self-publish today at

Aug 9, 2017

Episode 88 of the Kobo Writing Life Podcast isn't the more typical interview, but rather, KWL's Director, Mark Lefebvre, outlining five strategies that successful authors use to build their sales, raise their author profile and get readers to sign up their author mailing lists with Free eBooks.

First, Mark talks about the updates to FREE tracking.

If you've been paying attention to the updates in the Notification header of the Kobo Writing Life dashboard (which link to this VERY HANDY - hint, hint, nudge, nudge - part of the KWL Community) throughout July, you may have noticed that the Web team and the KWL Team have been working at revisions to the broken free tracking that we've been dealing with for quite a while.

Currently FREE TRACKING is being refreshed and updated. But in the meantime, there's something important you should know about the FREE DOWNLOADS numbers you're seeing.

The most important has to do with PREVIEWS.  First, please don't worry, we are NOT giving your non-free books away.

At Kobo, readers have the opportunity to preview the first 5% of eBooks. Whenever an ePub file is loaded into Kobo's database, the catalog generates a unique new ePub file that is comprised of the first 5% of that full eBook, then it tacks on a final page with a "BUY Button" for the full book into the end of that ePub.

And whenever a customer clicks on the "Save Preview" button on a book's item page, it adds that preview ePub file to that customer's library. Since there isn't currently any filtering that distinguishes the preview ePub file from the full ePub file, it appears as if that eBook was given to a customer, and is tracked as a "free download" in the dashboard. 

(The KWL, Web and UX Teams will be adjusting and fixing this, but having that information can be extremely valuable, because it allows you to see how many customers have PREVIEWED your book. IE, if you have a huge number of PREVIEWS but not a huge number of sales, that could tell you something important about the conversion from free preview to sales)

1) First Free eBook in Series (Perma-Free)

Although this isn't a new practice, it continues to be something that works quite nicely for authors looking to increase their sales and author profile at Kobo.

Authors can set any book on Kobo to free at any time for as long as they want with no restrictions and no requests for exclusivity.

The concept is creating a funnel to get a lot of people to grab the first book for free and hopefully converting them into buyers because the worlds, characters, settings and situations they are reading about in your series are so compelling that they HAVE to keep on reading.

Below are some stats that are typical of the conversion rate from FREE to SALES via studies done on multiple different first book in series promos.


2) Free Book/Novella/Novelette Kept Perma-Free that ISN'T the first in the Series

The same technique used above can be used for other books in the series (rather than the first book), or perhaps for interstitial stories in the series universe.

Remember that, with Kobo Writing Life, you can enter Series metadata using decimals. IE, imagine you have a novella that takes place between Books 1 and 2 in your series. Entering 1.5 into the Volume Number value in your Series metadata connects those book. (See this post on how that works at KWL)

3) Free related/connected Short Story hook into a novel or series

Mark shares a personal anecdote about using a short story to entice readers to want to learn more or explore more about characters that appear in a full novel.

His example is how the FREE short story, This Time Around, a 10,000 word short story, has been successful at helping new readers discover his main character Michael Andrews, who is a werewolf attempting to live a normal life in the midst of one of the world's largest metropolitan centers in the novel A Canadian Werewolf in New York.

4) A Free eBook that is a stand alone novel / NOT part of a series

For those of you who do NOT have series books, don't despair. There is still a correlation between the "funnel" of free eBooks and readers going on to buy more books by the same author (rather than books in the same series)

Mark shares how his friend Sean Costello, a thriller/horror writer he works closely with, uses free to build a readership, not based on the book being part of a series, but based on readers discovering the voice of a brilliant author who they feel compelled to read more books from.

Costello's SQUALL has garnered almost 3300 reviews on Kindle and more than 800 reviews on Kobo with a 4 star average.

Again, good news for authors who don't write series books. Free works for gaining new readers and selling more eBooks for you too.  :)


5) Using FREE eBooks for Newsletter sign-ups

While it's great that retails can help authors sell more using algorithms and targeted emails to their customers making recommendations, it is important for authors to get readers to sign up to their author newsletter.

Folks like Nick Stephenson (Your first 10,000 Readers) and Mark Dawson (Self Publishing Formula) have been helping authors use techniques to help get readers signed up for their newsletter mailing lists which allow authors to better control their own success. (Being able to let your best fans know when you have a new release or have a promotional price available has a direct correlation with sales success)

The way this works (and you can get FAR BETTER details by clicking the links above), authors set up a newsletter sign up at the end of their eBooks or via targeted social media ads (Facebook, etc) and when a customer signs up, they can get a free eBook sent to them from the author. These are typically eBooks that are NOT free on the various retail websites. So these readers who become newsletter subscribers get something of value directly from the author which helps built brand trust and loyalty.

Other authors, such as M.L. Buchman don't ever make their eBooks free nor do they give free eBooks away. But, instead, they create unique, fresh and interesting new stories and content specifically FOR their best fans, via either an author newsletter or directly on their own websites. (They will sometimes release this material via regular retail channels at a later date) This ensures that their best fans get access to reading fresh and exiting new material before anybody else can read it.


That, in a nutshell, are just five different ways that authors are using FREE to help build their sales and their author brands.

We would love to share more strategies that work well, so if you have a strategy that works for you, please free free to share that in comments on this podcast's show notes on the KWL Podcast web page under Episode 88.


Related Links:

Free eBooks on Kobo - curated from KWL titles and updated weekly. You can apply to be featured via the PROMOTIONS tab, which is currently in beta release. If you don't have it, simply request it by emailing