Thursday, September 18, 2014

Permafree as an Indie Marketing Strategy~Interview with Traci Tyne Hilton

Today I'm thrilled to introduce Traci Tyne Hilton, a Christian indie author who has been so helpful to me personally, and an inspiration to so many other authors. She is a busy gal (as you will see!), but I wanted to tap into her wisdom on the effectiveness of using permafree as a marketing strategy, which is the latest buzz in indie circles. Permafree books are books that STAY free on Amazon and/or various other outlets, thus pulling readers in to read more books by that author (usually in a series). 

One of the things I love about being an indie author is that we share sales figures and marketing strategies. Please take time to thank Traci for sharing her experience with us. I'm pinning this post for easy reference! ~Heather Day Gilbert

Permafree as an Indie Marketing Strategy

Interview with Traci Tyne Hilton

Author Traci Tyne Hilton
HG: First off, how long have you been self-published, Traci? I know you were one of the earlier writers to take this route (and I know it has paid off for you!).

TH: It’s funny to think of myself as an early adopter, because it feels like just yesterday, but my first indie title came out in paperback around February of 2010, and then as an ebook that fall.

HG: On the issue of permafree e-books (I believe the definition of that is "permanently free" e-books), how did you decide you were ready to make one of yours permafree? And was it the first in series?

TH: I decided to go permafree with the first book in my series because I was basically desperate. I was terrified to do it, but I knew I had to make a change.

So, I had been doing pretty well, considering I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t have a background in publishing, didn’t have a budget, didn’t have much of a plan, and wanted something I could do from home while raising my kids. I was making about a thousand dollars a month, and felt great. Then, November 2012 rolled around and I made…almost nothing. Or it felt that way. I was down to about $200 a month with no idea of how to make more.

I had already tried becoming a twitter-master (fifty tweets a day, links to helpful posts, fun quotes—a link to my books here and there.) I had tried writing fast and publishing fast (as fast as I could, anyway) and I had tried being a part of Kindle Select and running short promos. I had run Ereader News Today ads, Pixel of Ink ads, I had posted all over facebook. I don’t know, if someone had suggested it, I had tried it, and not just one little try, I had gone all out. And…I had short term success. Moments of good sales, but absolutely nothing lasting.

I had to find the secret magic trick that would make my books sell (Click to Tweet!), or give up and go back to paying attention to my kids!

I said to a friend of mine who was known for never compromising on his advice, “You are bossy and successful. Tell me what to do and I will do it. Whatever you say.” He said make my first book free and write more books. So I did, and it worked.

HG: Did you notice an immediate sales bump for other books in the series when you made the first permafree?

TH: Yes, definitely. You remember I was desperate because after two years of publishing and growing an audience my royalties had dropped to about $200 a month, right? Well, the first month the first Mitzy book was free—and I only had three books in the series at the time—I made $2800. I was immediately sold. I mean, think about that…three books made me $200. I made first book free, and two books made me $2800. I’d say that was an immediate result!

HG: What long-term effects have you seen from your permafree decision?

TH: The biggest change, besides making heckuva lot more money, is that I now have an active fan base! It’s a blast to get fan mail, and to hang out with people on facebook who are there because they like my books!

HG: When would you NOT recommend an author go permafree with his/her book?

TH: I would not recommend permafree if:

-The author only has one book

-The author’s titles are not in the same genre

-or, if in the same genre the books are too different to be grouped into some kind of series

-The author is philosophically against free. (There are plenty of authors who consider free promotions damaging to literature. I would never try and talk them out of their convictions.)

-If they are my direct competition. JUST KIDDING! I have happily talked lots of other Christian Cozy authors into trying it out, and I think they are all pretty happy with their results. (Check out the authors of to see what I mean!

     HG: I know that of all my marketing strategies to date, going free a few days with my books has brought the most results in terms of temporary sales boost. Would you say going permafree has been the best marketing strategy you have tried? If not, what is?

TH: Writing a series that follows one lead character and making the first book of that series free is the only marketing technique I have tried that has produced an increase in sales that lasted longer than about three days. (Click to Tweet!) Every other technique—and I have tried them all—was less effective in producing both short and long term sales (for me.)

HG: Finally, on a non-permafree note, how many books do you think an author needs to have out before making a full-time income on self-publishing, if you could give us an estimate? I've heard five books.

TH: I think an author needs to publish a minimum of three books a year to make a living. The point at which they start making a living is different for everyone. But it is the steady stream of quality new releases that makes a person able to live off their writing rather than a set number of books already published. Three is really the minimum for most people, and since it’s August, and I’ve only published one so far this year, I had better say goodbye, and get back to work! Thanks so much for the chat!

***Thank you, Traci! Readers, what about you--has a free book ever hooked you into buying a series or reading more from an author? Indie authors, if you have tried this strategy, how has it worked for you?***

Click to Find on Amazon
Traci Tyne Hilton is the author of the new Tillgiven Mystery Series, The Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery Series, and The Plain Jane Mystery Series. She was the Mystery/Suspense Category winner for the 2012 Christian Writers of the West Phoenix Rattler Contest, and has a Drammy from the Portland Civic Theatre Guild. Traci serves as the Vice President of the Portland chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association.

Traci earned a degree in History from Portland State University and still lives in the rainiest part of the Pacific Northwest with her husband the mandolin playing funeral director, their two daughters, and their dogs, Dr. Watson and Archie.

More of Traci's work can be found at

Click to Find on Amazon


Connie Almony said...

Great interview. I will be sure to use the advice. Now I have to get back to writing :o)!!!

Autumn Macarthur said...

Thanks to Traci and Heather for some excellent marketing advice, backed up with real numbers! I love the transparency in the indie world. And I have the first Plain Jane mystery on my Kindle now, for when the second book in my current series is finished ;)

Traci said...

Thanks for hosting me, Heather, it was fun chatting about freebies. Growing up my dad was an advertizer and coined the phrased "Free is a very good price!" and I can't help agreeing!

Connie, glad you enjoyed it! I'm with you: I've got to get writing! :D

Traci said...

Thanks Autumn! I think the transparency in the indie world is a real benefit. It helps so much to know what the potential market is! There is nothing wrong with writing for the love of the craft, or story, but if you know that you can make an income from your writing too---well, all the better!

Ron Estrada said...

Thank you Traci (and Heather, your lovely assistant). This is the number one strategy I've heard touted over and over by the succesful indies. The other is to always, always, and always finish each book with a link to the next in the series or to your newsletter sign-up (which also comes with a free download). The one thing that bothers me about perma-free is that the seller (usually Amazon) doesn't provide those e-mails of the people who download your book. I'll always try to get people to download it directly from my site just to get those precious e-mail addresses. To me, it's worth the lower sales ranking in Amazon.

Randy Ingermanson said...

Traci was instrumental in getting me off my butt and onto the permafree wagon. And it's worked incredibly well! My results have been similar to Traci's, and I'm extremely thankful I listened to her (she is in my local critique group, so we talk marketing once a month).

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Interesting thoughts, Ron! I think email lists do grow over time if you post links to them everywhere, as you said (reminds me I need to make sure that's in all my books!). I love having that direct way to contact readers who are genuinely interested in what I'm writing.

Elaine Manders said...

A great post Traci. Thanks for sharing. I just have one thing to add. Make sure that first book is a good story and well edited, but especially a good story. I've been reading the free books in my favorite genre and found some favorite new authors because their first story was so compelling even if there were writing mistakes. On the other hand, I've read first books that were rather well written but didn't hold my interest.

As a writer, I have two books in my series and I'm seriously considering using your strategy as soon as I finish the third.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I LOVED this interview, Traci--you are so fun to talk to! Lots of thoughts I need to ponder frequently as I figure out how to steer my writing/marketing efforts. Permafree is definitely an option, I just have to get more books written first! ;) I'm so glad it's working well for you, Randy, and so many others.

Traci said...

The thing I like the best about perma free is that it has worked in every genre I have seen it tried. This just can't be said about the other marketing techniques. Now if only we can get you to write City of God Book 4 I can say "My work here is done!"

Traci said...

I hope you have a chance to give it a try! I did do the interview with the idea in mind that I'm talking to writers whose books are ready for prime time. :) If they aren't...go ahead and fix 'em up! That's the fun of being indie. While you may make mistakes in the beginning (I certainly did!) you can go back and fix them.

Traci said...

I do have my newsletter sign up in my books, but sadly, the opt in to the letter very much lags behind the free downloads! I should get something free going for those who sign up, but I haven't had time to create a new product just for that yet.

Sally Bradley said...

When Traci speaks, all of us indies listen. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Traci! Yes, now back to cranking out the words...

Traci said...

Lol! In my dream world. ;) But I'm happy to share everything I know, since it was all shared freely with me. Very few secrets in the indie biz, and it seems to me, the better the books and marketing in general, the better everyone's experience is.

Kelli Hughett said...

Very insightful advice.

Traci said...


Ken said...

I love to read kindle eBooks. My kids also like kindle eBooks. Thanks for sharing it..