Challenge,  publishing

Interesting Reaction…

…To the Free Promotions Post Last Night.

Writers will pay more thousands of dollars than I want to think about to take a class on how to do paid ads on Amazon and other places from writers who have been around a year or so and have a “system.” And then spend more thousands on the ads.

And then spend even more to fly to 20 to 50 Conference to learn even more methods, secrets, and systems of how to promote and make money without doing the work.

Yet Amazon and the other places have free tutorials on how to do ads that work on their own site. Tutorials are free.

And last night I put up a bunch of ways to do free promotion for your books. Not inclusive by a long ways, but a bunch. All of them were just the basics that most early writers don’t do. And I put it all up free.

I expected other writers to chip in by saying, “And yes, I also do this… or that…” You know, stuff beyond the basics. Things like YouTub and Book videos and so much more cool stuff that is basically free promotion.

But nope. Not one.

Figured out why. I was talking free and free has no value.

But if I had said for $5,000, I’ll teach you forty ways to promote your books without any extra costs, a bunch of people would sign up for it.

Maybe I missed a boat-load of money, but clearly I missed something last night by putting out all those natural and free ways to promote books for free.

I was honestly hoping to learn of more ways from all the smart people out there chipping in even more ways to promote books for free.

Instead, it seems all I did was some typing.


  • Filip

    The problem with free is that it never is free. You have to learn, you have to try, fail, try again, and you have to follow up, optimize, and learn some more.

    All of these cost effort and uncertainty, which to a lot of people means emotional pain.

    Much easier to not do the homework and just throw a boatload of money at the problem. That way you get to complain about how the system is rigged when you fail, and it’s never your own fault.

      • Nathan Haines

        Haha, he had me in the first half, not gonna lie!

        What impressed me about your post, Dean, is that I had had such quiet admiration for the “Free Advertising” post, contemplated this update, and then came back in 12 hours later to see an explosion of comments. As I go on to read them, I hope that far smarter and more experienced people than I have given some great tips I can absorb!

  • Lyn Perry

    I was telling my wife yesterday about the long haul strategy of simply building my backlist and how the best advertising for my books is writing the next one. And she said there’s probably a lot of free ways to get my name out there before we ever need to actually try paid advertising. And then I found your post last night and said, “Well as a matter of fact!” Didn’t comment last night after reading your ideas, but yep, doing almost all of them. When I think of more I’ll let you know! 🙂 Kind regards, Lyn

  • Balázs

    For me, actually, the previous post was useful. Everywhere I hear that without paid marketing I can’t sell. I just do the math and I know I wouldn’t be able to make a living if one novel’s marketing costs more than I can make with the story itself. It is as if I would pay people to read my books. And when I read the post yesterday it was an eyeopener. I can marketing with things I wouldn’t even consider as marketing methods – just as websites, short stories, and in so many more ways. It’s easy to forget the story I wrote is the best marketing for the next book. And social media, and so on. I think marketing needs another way of thinking, to notice the methods you can use. Those who build those paid methods are not interested at all to make your writing reach the readers. They are interested in taking your money with pricey marketing and still letting you alone doing the work. If I am wrong, then maybe there are several company doing it the other way and really helps, but… at the very least those I met are not in this category.

  • Wes McBride

    Hey Dean,

    My wife and I really appreaciated your last post. We’re new writers who have only reached the tip of the iceberg on this. You weren’t just typing to us! Super helpful. And very valuable.

    — Wes

  • Harvey Stanbrouigh

    A lot of us are probably doing the things you listed to whatever level of success. No doubt some of those who read your post will try some of the things you mentioned. I hope they’re successful.

    I have an author website, a Journal website where I talk about writing almost every day, and a publisher website. I no longer do Facebook (so minus 1 for me). I don’t support companies or organizations that endorse and exercise bias and censorship. (I was never censored, but I saw a lot of others who were.)

    I also don’t collect email addresses (the much-vaunted “list” we’re supposed to build). “Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a free blah blah blah” is at least borderline coercion and, to me, ugly.

    I just don’t do things that don’t feel right. But writing the next book? Yes. That definitely feels right.

    Last year, from January 1 to August 6 (so 7months) I wrote 13 novels and a smattering of short stories. For awhile I was writing a new 45,000 to 60,000 word novel every 14 days. (That 13th novel was also my 66th overall since October 2014.)

    Then on August 6 I stopped smoking cigars. That altered my brain chemistry, and I entered a year-long dry spell. It was pure hell, and if I’d thought for a second starting cigars again would get my mojo back, I’d have done it. With my luck, I figured I’d be hooked again AND still wouldn’t be able to write.

    Anyway, I’m about to finish my 67th novel (25 writing days so far), and with one line of dialogue in that one, a relatively minor character handed me an entire new series. I love it when that happens.

    Do what you do, Dean. The minions certainly will.

    • dwsmith

      Harvey, you are doing exactly what I said is the best to do… Write the next book, and doing it well. I am not suggesting anyone has to do all this. In fact, I don’t even post on my own web site when I have a new novel out, let alone Facebook or in a newsletter or anywhere else. I am a firm believer in just writing the next book and getting it out wide. And then write the next book.

      I am doing all this promotion talk because it’s fun for me to learn. I ain’t doing any of it, far less than you do, actually.

      And honestly, the 13 novels in 7 months sounds like a form of challenge to me. (grin)

      • Harvey Stanbrouigh

        Yeah. I just wish I could bring myself to surreptitiously collect email addresses and build a list. That seems to be the key. I might have a million or ten million loyal readers out there, but my inability to point directly to them costs me opportunities.

        The 13 novels in 7 months wasn’t a challege at all. Just worked out that way. For a time I was putting out a new novel every 14 days.

        • Kate Pavelle

          Hi Harvey, if you don’t feel comfortable enticing readers to sign up for a newsletter in exchange for exclusive content, why not tell them? As a reader, it would be so refreshing to see that. Just put up a sign-up button on your website with a short invitation to sign up for your newsletter, and explain that you want only people who want to be there in the interestest of transparency, and of saving their time. (And your time. That way you won’t have to do those whole onboarding sequences.) FYI I don’t do those sequences either. I always welcome new readers in a newsletter like I would wave in newcomers who showed up for a party. I do provide free content, but that’s always a surprise. (Does that sound more palatable?)

    • Philip

      Harvey, I used to LOVE smoking fine cigars daily (all Nicaraguan) but quit cold turkey in September 2020 when I lost my dad to lung cancer. For me, it helped my writing because I wasn’t sinking all that time into sitting in the backyard smoking cigars back to back and listening to music and podcasts.

      • Harvey Stanbrouigh

        Glad it worked out that way for you, Philip. Not sure about the connection with lung cancer though, unless you were inhaling the smoke. I wasn’t.

        Mine were all nicaraguan too, mostly maduros and mostly toros. For me, stopping messed up my brain chemistry so badly I was unable to write for a year. I went from turning out 50,000 to 60,000 words every 14 days (I was never happier) to not writing at all.

        I stopped cigars because my ankles were swelling and my doc put that down to nicotine. Which was BS. A year later, my ankles are still swelling and I’ve only started writing again. All that lost time. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have stopped. If I were certain starting again would get me back in the groove, I’d start again in a heartbeat.

  • Vera Soroka

    Well, I can add a few. If you like serizations, the app world is a hot thing right now. I have one story with an app. They have millions of eyeballs that can see your work and they do the advertizing like the ads, not you. You have to do some promotions on your social media but that’s it. It’s a non exclusive contract so you can still publish wide.
    Another one is the bookbox subscritions that you can submit to. They will accept indies. They are very popular especially in the fantasy romance genre. I’m going to try it. It costs you nothing but your time. They have huge followings and again they do the heavy lifting on the ads, not you.
    There are booksagrammers out there on instagram that will accept indie. Some of them have huge followings and if they like your work, they will spread the word. Cost nothing to you but your time. The same will work with booktubers on youtube. If they have a following, they can really spread the word.
    Visual is very in now so reels and videos on instagram and Tiktoc can be affective. And you don’t have to have a lot of graphic know how with the tools they provide for you. Your limitless to your imagination to grab attention.

    • Kate Pavelle

      Vera, for those with a BookBrush subscription, BookBrush now has applications that let you create simple videos. They include free stock videos, and have tutorials on how to put it all together. (I won’t be renewing BookBrush because they went to annual billing without notice, and Canva does the same thing. I can access most of the Canva functionality through my SocialBee subscription.) (Yes, I am paring down my subscriptions!)

  • Philip

    One of the HUGE myths with indie publishing is the Secret Sauce myth. Most writers believe there’s a big secret to being successful, and they’re willing to pay top dollar to learn it.

    Even devout readers of this blog are not immune. Just look at how many are Amazon-exclusive or price low or outline or ignore any number of your pieces of advice.

    • dwsmith

      Nothing anyone can say to someone making short-term slight money on Amazon exclusive Select. They know it all. I just shake my head and leave them alone.

  • Vincent Zandri

    Well now that you shamed us into it. (Grinning). I read your post and you nailed it in the bottom line (no pun),.Your best advetising/mareketing stratgey should be to write the next book.

    I’ve fallen for the thousand dollar “How to create effective amazon ads that will make you filthy rich in five days” BS on a couple of occasions and all it did was make the ad teachers rich. One of them is a well known author who, for some reason, authors flock to like he is providing them a magic pill. There’s plenty of free amazon ads advice on Youtube these days and it’s up to the author to do what works for them.

    I hardly do any amazon ads anymore (I don’t do any FB or Google, etc), because it’s largely a waste of money and time that I’m better off putting toward my writing (see my first paragraph).

    I also use Bookfunnel for subscribers which costs about 20 bucks per month. But be warned folks, many BF readers want free books and that’s that.

    Maintaining a substack page which you can use to offer free content is a great move. So is starting a YouTube channel and/or podcast although the latter takes a lot of time and effort.

    I’m still working on getting my Kickstarter approach right, ’cause I see that as a new and effective way to sell books. But I’m stupid and it’s taking me some time to get it right.

    Social media is there for everyone but it’s a tricky beast in that you can’t be shilling your stuff all the time.
    Instgram: Use it to show videos and post photos of your new books or specials you’re running
    FB: use it to promo the occasional book, but it’s largely a Boomer platpform and you’re likely to get more of a reaction by posting a picture of the lobster roll you just bought.
    Twitter: sucks and you can’t sell books there. It’s largely filled with angry trolls.

    Kindle Vella is terrific if you’re prolific and can feed the beast on a daily basis. I’ve made thousands of dollars on it this year and it’s brought me new readers. You can also package your material into books that you can sell wide. Right now anyway, it’s a win/win for me anyway.

    Most of all, write your next book, rince and repeat, like the Dean Man says:)

  • Debra Kincheloe

    I was in Raleigh yesterday and stopped by a couple of Little Free Library locations. One was in front of a woman’s club; the other was in front of a private residence. I picked up four novels, new and free to me. I also left a donation of five books in each box. You can find locations of Little Free Libraries throughout the world. It’s like those take-a-penny, leave-a-penny dishes by cash registers. Loads of fun for any age. If you don’t have copies of your books to scatter about, readers always appreciate another bookmark or post card to use in their reading. Free Treasure is always a good thing!

    • dwsmith

      Kris and I donate our books all the time to libraries. They seldom hit the shelves, but they always end up in the library book sale and find a new reader that way. That is not free, costs the price of a book. And we never sign them because we want the book to be read and then donated back to the library to find another reader. And each reader, if we did our job with the writing and story, will look up our web site and find more of our work. Advertising.

  • Ed Teja

    I think it was more a matter of information overload. Personally, I’m overwhelmed by all the avenues for promoting for free and taking time from writing and studying writing to deal with them… well, it’s been on the backburner. I’m more interested in pursuing your number one route to discoverability by getting stories in major magazines and publishing books (and collections) wide. For a one-person operation (when making your own covers) that is a full plate already.

    So I couldn’t add anything.

    • dwsmith

      Ed, yes, that is a full plate. Agreed. But some of this other stuff is just minutes of time if done regularly for each new release. So keep that in mind. It might seem overwhelming, but it really isn’t bad.

  • Topaz

    Hi Dean,

    what I do for free promotion, and I’m pretty sure it’s old info for most here, is:

    – publish a short story every other week, to constantly make my name visible in the new release lists at all retailers

    – put a list with my short stories in the back of each on my books, because readers who read the book to the end already like my voice and surely search for more books

    – add a sample chapter of a book in the same genre to the back of each book to entice readers to keep going and then pick up the next book

    – on the book cover: as a tag of my name I add “author of (book title)”, in case anyone looks at a large version of the cover, to show this person there’s more than one book available by me

    I have seriously no numbers, therefore can’t tell how much this does help. But it’s easy for me to do, free, and takes nearly no time to do.

    • dwsmith

      Good ones, Topaz. Yeah, Kris does a free story of the week and that always bumps the sales of that free story, weirdly enough. Thanks, those are good ones. I like the visible name on “new release lists” every week. Had not thought of that.

  • Lorri Moulton

    I have Facebook parties once a month in one group (mainly tea cups and dresses with a few books) and a weekly Facebook group that is all about tea.

    Social media is great for interacting with potential readers, but it takes more than buy-my-book, billboard advertising. It’s about building a brand.

    Not everyone wants to spend the time interacting if there aren’t immediate sales, but it’s a good (and fun) way to interact with people. And I love tea! As do most of my characters…in those books.

  • Linda Maye Adams

    According to Craig Martelle (at Superstars), if you want to be successful at Amazon ads, you have to spend $1,000 a month, at least. That’s because you’d be competing with him, and he spends $10K a month. But everyone jumps right to ads for a first book. Exactly what are people going to buy after they’ve bought the one book? You constantly have to churn for new readers.

    I have stories out on submission. A fun one is going to be in Of Wizards and Wolves. Just saw the cover yesterday and it looks amazing.

    I have a newsletter mailing list specifically for speculative fiction readers. Though I write multi-genre, I had to pick where I could make the best effort. Most of my inventory are spec fiction.

    I’m running a book on my blog called Time Management for Writers: What No One Tells You. It hits on how to blend both the day job and a writing side hustle. Books do one or the other and this is about taming the day job chaos so you can do the writing. I was surprised at how much critical voice came into my job because of overwhelm and that gave it a foothold in the writing.

    And my focus for 2022 is to get my books to 20. I have a lot of short stories up; books are at 15. I’m going to add more collections and a space opera and a superhero book this year. Maybe a mystery, too.

  • J. Steven York

    Free isn’t free in that it requires time, effort and hopefully research into the most effective methods, and then KEEPING up with that research because of the rapidly changing world we operate in. As with many things, there’s a learing curve too. I learn new stuff ALL the time, because I keep at it, and I do research. But that puts off a lot of people. We’ve experimented with paid ads, and so far the results seem pretty weak compared to other methods (especially that whole “Kickstarter” thing). Maybe we’re not doing that right either, because I haven’t researched as deeply, and we’re just not willing to throw a lot of money at it and see what sticks (yet, anyway). There’s also the problem of people who TRY, but just do it so badly that they’re putting people off rather than building their products and reputation. The best methods are subtle. They use balance and leverage rather than brute force. And a lot of people don’t have patience to do that. Maybe that’s the key word: “Patience.” Be patient enough to study, experiment, and learn to do it well. Be patient enough to let your methods work, even if they don’t instantly result in huge sales spikes. Be patient enough not to beat people over the head. Seduce them. Make them like YOU as a writer and as the creator of a body of work, and not just the latest “hot” book you’re shouting from the rooftop about.

  • Cat

    One of the best ways I’ve found to promote my writing for free is by writing fanfiction. I don’t do it FOR promotional purposes– I do it because it’s fun, but when I post free fanfic stories, I also post a link to my author website and social media. I’ve made quite a few sales that way and found lots of readers who are interested in my work. Of course a lot of people who read fanfic are only there for the free stories, but a surprising number of them also look into my original fiction and end up buying books.

    • dwsmith

      That’s a good thing is a writer LOVES the area and the copyright holder has basically given permission for fan fiction that does not make money. Make sure the copyright holder has given permission, otherwise you are stealing copyright and trademark. If you do not know what you are doing, stay away from fan fiction and write your own stuff. Always better.

  • Brad D. Sibbersen

    Draft2Digital sends out regular emails inviting you to participate in various retailers’ sales and special offers. All you have to do is fill out a (very short) form and hit submit. Ten seconds of work and if your title is selected… free advertising!

  • Harvey Stanbrouigh

    Ah, I just remembered one more thing, so probably nobody will see it but…..

    Not to help yourself so much as to help a fellow writer. Pick a writer or writers whose work you enjoy and include the title of a book by him or her (and the author name) in your novel or short story. I almost always have at least one character who reads during “quiet time,” and I almost always make sure s/he’s reading something by one of my favorite authors. It’s also kind of a neat way to see what other authors are reading your books. I’ve received nice thank-you emails from Kevin Tumlinson and John Gilstrap, both authors whose works I enjoy.