Amazon has a program called KDP Select (not to be confused with KDP as the two are different programs. The select is Amazon exclusive and the other isn't.) With KDP Select, authors and publishers offer their books to Amazon for 90 days exclusively. In exchange for the exclusivity, they allow a 5-day window where the book can be offered for free.
Now, that doesn't sound like such a great deal for anyone aside from Amazon, but it actually is. By offering the ebook for free, the author or publisher gets to use Amazon's marketing muscle by way of their ranking system. Also, the more people who download the book, the more the book shows up in Amazon's "customers who bought this book also bought x" section. That gets the book in front of more people which, of course, is the whole goal of marketing. On top of that, if the book does well enough, it's ranking gets better, in turn gaining more exposure. The hope with this process is that the book goes semi viral and becomes self-sustaining in the downloads during the 5 free days.
I'll tell you my experience and a few tricks that I felt helped my success with the program. My first foray into the program was a collection of horror short stories called Death Alarm that I self-published as a way to test the waters. I had a nice cover created by cover artist, Steve Murphy, and started my 5 free days. I did a bit of promoting, but not a lot. My final numbers were 344 total downloads and 0 paid downloads after the 5 free days. Other than the fact that my work was now in the hands of 344 people who may never have seen it otherwise, the program was basically a failure for me considering the amount of work put into the project.
So, when Rhemalda approached me about using the promotion for Tamed, I was highly skeptical. Rhemalda had been seeing different results with a few of their books and felt Tamed had a chance to be far more successful than my short story collection, Death Alarm.
After a bit of convincing on Rhemalda's part, I gave in. Boy, was I wrong to be skeptical. At the end of the first day, Rhemalda told me Tamed was being downloaded at a rate of 750 per hour. It hit 10,000 downloads in the first 24 hours or so. Yeah, I'd say that was successful.
In the Amazon free store, Tamed rose to number 1 in horror and number 1 in contemporary fantasy. It held those rankings throughout the promotion which meant it was still being downloaded at a pretty good clip. OK, it dropped to number 3 in horror on the last day, but still. During the 5 days, Tamed hovered between 17 and 49 in the overall rankings (top 100 should be your goal) which I was pretty happy about.
My final downward numbers were 21,466. In addition to that many downloads, I received 3 unsolicited reviews and about 25 likes. The reviews were (2) 5-star and (1) 3-star. Pretty exciting start. On a side note: The 3-star reviewer liked the story and characters but complained about the editing. I wonder if that person received a corrupted file because he/she said sentences ended in the middle as part of her complaint and that wasn't something anyone else had complained about.
You probably are asking if this promotion has translated into sales and the answer is a big yes. When the free promotion ended about 24 hours ago, my ranking was 324,000. My current overall ranking is 8,809. Plus, Rhemalda has told me that Tamed is selling pretty steadily in the UK right now as well.
A lot of the success for the KDP promotion has to do with genre, cover art, synopsis and luck. I believe there are few things the author or publisher can do to help, but there are some. For me, I put a ton of promotion into the first day in hopes of having enough downloads that the self sustaining aspect of Amazon took over and that is what happened. Did my promotional work help? Who knows, but I'll tell you what I did and you can decide.
First, I sought out as many Facebook groups that posted free ebook deals as I could. (Simply type kindle, ebook, or free ebook in the FB search.) Be sure to go to their websites and read their instructions ahead of time because some groups want 5 days notice. If there are no instructions just post your book on the day it becomes free.
Next, and I think this helped the most, was tweeting. A lot. Remember, you aren't trying to get your followers to download your book as much as using keywords to expose your book to a ton more people. I had a fortunate Twitter thing happen on day one and it might help you with your tweets. Once I started tweeting, a couple of my tweets were picked up by several werewolf fans and retweeted because, unbeknownst to me, Wednesday is werewolfwednesday. I then added that tag to my tweets. Though I got lucky, you can make your own luck in the same way. Research Twitter with different keywords relating to your book to see if anything is trending and include that word in your tweets. For instance, the word werewolves seemed more popular than werewolf or lycan so my tweets included the word werewolves. I found that you should also include #freeebook #freekindle #Kindle and whatever else you can think of. Also, use bitly.com to shorten your Amazon link to your book so you have more room to tweet. Because Twitter is such a good avenue, I used twuffer.com to schedule tweets throughout the 5 days so that I always had stuff going out.
Next, blog about your giveaway, post to all of your FB groups, and have all of your friends download your book even if they already have it a paperback or whatever. Also, be visible on the Goodreads forums and kindle boards (you can directly promote in the Kindle Board Book Bazaar section). Other than in the Book Bazaar, don't flat out promote your book. Join in on the conversations and have a link to your book in your signature. People who troll those boards often click on your signature and check out what you have. The other thing I did was to create an event to your Goodreads friends. After you do all of these things, cross your fingers and hope for some action.
I realize some people have had equal success with the program without doing any of this, but I like to increase my odds, even if just a bit.
So, good luck everyone.