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I put one of my short stories on Smashwords yesterday and listed it as free.  So far it has been downloaded 50 times.

So will that improve my novel sales?  I really don't know since I am new to this game.

The theory is that people will like your writing and buy some of your other novels.

So when you gave books away free, did that help the sales of your other novels?
 

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It doesn't help a lot on Smashwords itself -- not directly anyway. With freebies and samples both you get people who download for later reading.  You also may get a few people who sample you there and buy elsewhere. 

The freebies have done me the most good on the partners, and of course, when Amazon matched two of my freebies recently.  They didn't help other titles that much, though -- mainly when the title went back to paid, it continued to sell better than before for a while. 

However, this doesn't work for all titles. (I think the first one tends to do better than others.  New titles tend to do better also.)  But generally every title is different.

Camille
 

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I have 2 novels for sale now and five short stories that are free.  It doesn't help a lot on Smashwords, but it's made a big affect on B&N, Apple and Amazon.  I would say 95% of my sales on those three sites are from the free short stories. :)  I've estimated it to be about 1 sale for every 700-1000 downloads of a free book, though that's a very, very rough guess.
 
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