Mark Dawson was trying to be a fulltime writer, but was getting discouraged. A few years ago, he decided to promote his book via Freebooksy, the first of five e-book focused sites created by Durham-based married entrepreneurs Ricci Wolman and Ferol Vernon as part of Written Word Media. When Dawson first checked the free download numbers on Amazon the morning of the promotion, he was disappointed. So he went for a run. By the time he returned, the Freebooksy email went out and the free download numbers had exploded.

That was the moment he realized he could be a fulltime writer, he told the Written Word Media entrepreneurs.

The free ebook approach is what got Written Word the most attention, they tell WRAL TechWire.

Wolman originally conceived the idea for Freebooksy after she tried to help her mother market a book she authored in 2011. It simply was not easy for a new author to build an audience, particularly for an ebook. So, Wolman came up with the idea for a site that would have a database of free ebooks, and later that morphed into a number of ebook focused sites: freebooksy, bargainbooksy, newinbooks, redfeatherromance, all dot coms, and

It all started with a small blog Wolman started to curate free books for readers, including highlighting her mom’s book. Through her marketing skills, the reader base grew and evolved into Freebooksy and then the other sites followed later.

The idea was two-fold: help authors market their ebooks and help readers find them. Headquartered in the American Underground in Durham, where it moved to from Chapel Hill earlier this year, the five-person company “Is plugged into Durham,” says Wolman.

Free ebooks a top marketing tool

It has amassed 370,000 registered users across its five web sites. It has 16,000 author and publishers signed up and counting its social media, a total reach of about 700,000.

A survey by, a platform that publishes and distributes ebooks, found in a survey ( last year that the free ebook model remains one of the most powerful book marketing tools. It makes it easier for a reader to try an author unknown to him. Personally, we’ve discovered writers whose books we later purchased through free ebook marketing. If you’re a reader, it’s easy enough to see how it works.

Part of what drives the team, Wolman says, “Is helping independent authors change their lives. They love what they do, but in the current environment it’s difficult to make a living. We allow them to write and we take care of the marketing so they can make a living at what they do.”

Similarly, the couple, both readers, love books. “Helping people discover the next great book is a big part of what makes us tick and what we do here,” she says. The company charges moderate fees to authors and publishers, ranging from $25 to $200 with an average of around $70 for the services they render. “That gets the book in front of thousands of readers from 24 hours to 30 days,” Vernon says.

Vernon, the technologist of the pair, reads a lot of science fiction, especially military SF. He left ReverbNation, another Durham-based startup, to join his wife at Written Word Media when it began to take off. He gives nod to Jef Carlson, CEO of AdWerx and formerly COO at ReverbNation and Mike Doernberg, CEO at Reverb, as his mentors. “It had 10 people when I started and 100 when I left,” Vernon, who was with the company six years, says.

Wolman enjoys literary and historical fiction. They have two small children they read to, favorites being Dr. Seus and Curious George. She has been doing online marketing since 2010.

The company is currently bootstrapped and plows profits back into the firm, and doesn’t expect to seek venture funding in the near term.

On the web:

Written Word Media (

Media Sites


Bargain Booksy:


Red Feather Romance:

A Year of Books: (we didn’t talk about this one, but it’s here for completeness)