January 15 Book Marketing Tip: Get over your fear of giving away free copies of your book!
More than a dozen years ago, I heard (or read) Seth Godin say that an author needed to give away at least 5,000 copies of his or her book in order for the book to get enough traction to really take off. At the time, that sounded cavalier and unrealistic. Why would any author who intended to sell books give away so many of them? We weren’t nearly as conditioned to the idea as we are today, and yet many authors still resist the idea of giving books away.
But then Godin went on to prove his thesis by giving away more than 3 million copies of his third book, Unleashing the Ideavirus. According to Wikipedia (I know – take the info there with a grain of salt), Unleashing the Ideaviris may be the most downloaded book in the history of downloadable books. Since its original publication in 2000 as a free eBook, it has been published in both hard cover and paperback form, has been translated into at least 10 languages, and still retains a healthy Amazon ranking of #448,407 out of the millions of titles they carry.
Of vastly more importance than his Amazon ranking, though, is the fact that Unleashing the Ideavirus put Godin on the map as a marketer, garnering him speaking gigs and international acclaim. I’m not suggesting that giving your book away will do the same for you – but it can be a big boost in terms of growing your platform, which may ultimately translate into more sales and bigger renown for you as an author.
My original thought was to write a post about the value of giving away copies of your book – but I realized the topic’s already been well covered. So here is an aggregate of posts on the topic. Each has a slightly different take – so I’ve highlighted what I consider the best point of each post.
The following is the introduction to a guest post by Tony James Slater on David Gaughran’s blog, Let’s Get Visible.
This post is a testament to the power of determination, and proof that even the most niche of books can be a self-publishing success story, a book that every agent in the UK said there was no market for.
Tony was willing to try a bit of everything, including dressing his poor mother up in a bear suit, his sister in a giant pair of cardboard underpants, and forcing them both to hand out fliers in front of Waterstones to promote his e-book, That Bear Ate My Pants.
Author Jody Hedlund details the ways giving away free copies of her book helped her sell more books. She offers specific advice about how many books to give away, whom to give them to, and when to do these giveaways.
Initially, I didn’t want to give away free copies, especially to my closest friends and family because they were among the few I knew would actually go out and purchase my book without arm-twisting.
But over the past year, I’ve realized I was wrong. My sales didn’t go down through the distribution of free books. In fact, they went up. The people who received my book for free helped promote it through Amazon reviews, blog write-ups, interviews, and numerous other ways. Their promotion helped carry the news and excitement about my book beyond the scope of my personal reach.
These tips will perhaps benefit nonfiction authors more than fiction authors. Ways to give use free copies to build buzz and get readers talking about your book:
- Get people to sign up for your mailing list
- Impress business prospects
- Send to bloggers
- Send to media professionals
- Conduct a contest and give copies away to winners
- Offer as a bonus with purchase of another product or service
- Offer as a bonus that others can give away with their products and services
- Distribute to the audience at speaking engagements
If you’re thinking that this strategy is going to cut into your revenues, then consider this: the real money in publishing isn’t in the book sales. The real money is in the business you generate as a result of your book.
Great information about how Hugh Howey (bestselling author), John Dumas (top-ranking podcaster), and Danny Iny (profitable entrepreneur) have a habit of giving their books away for free.
Why do some authors offer free books? First, because they can. This option, which would have not been practical two decades ago, has become feasible thanks to self publishing and the rise of digital books. Self-published authors typically earn higher royalties, plus incur no costs when an ebook is sold.
Second, authors’ generosity is often reciprocated by a myriad of benefits. In addition to enjoying more readers (and thus more word-of-mouth marketing), authors who give their books away for free or at low costs frequently enjoy deeper customer relationships, more reviews, more sales of print books and increased sales of related books, products and services.
Tess Thompson has sold 90,000 copies of Riversong, which is remarkable. What’s more remarkable is that she’s also given away 250,000 free downloads.
Some people may look at those quarter-million free downloads and think Thompson and Booktrope are letting revenue slip through their fingers. To that response, Katherine Sears, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Booktrope asks, “Did we lose 250,000 sales or gain 250,000 fans?” Booktrope equates those give-aways to 250,000 advertising impressions.
“As a new author in a sea of books it’s almost impossible get noticed by readers,” said Thompson, “Making Riversong free was a way for us to entice readers to give my work a chance hoping that once they read the first in the series they would come back for more.” Riversong rose to the number one free book on Amazon the day it was made free. That high download rate, said Thompson, “translated to sales the very next week.”
Here are the steps you need to take in order to make [your giveaway] the best it can be:
1. Personalize every book. Sure, it’s a little time consuming, but this really shows you took some time and consideration to the person on the receiving end. It is always a WOWing experience to receive a surprise package containing a free personalized book.
2. Include a letter in every package. Write a simple letter expressing gratitude to the recipient. Be sure to sign it by hand. You can send the same letter to everyone, but be sure to write the actual name of each person in the salutation.
3. Ask each recipient to take a specific action. Do NOT be afraid of this one! Most people are happy to take a couple minutes and do any of the following examples:
- Ask them to leave an Amazon or any other kind of online review, good or bad.
- Ask them to tweet a picture of the book (or post it to Facebook).
- Tell them where and how they can get additional copies for friends.
Just be sure not to go overboard and ask to do TOO much. It is best to stick with one action.
4. Get creative. Always ask yourself what one more thing you could do to make this an incredible experience for the person on the receiving end.
Earning money isn’t your biggest problem. If you’re connected with enough people who enjoy your work, then it’s almost impossible to not make a living.
When you’re just starting out, you’ll have no idea if your fiction resonates with anyone. Consider sharing your first story for free to find out.
Another post by Jody Hedlund, this one talks about the distinction between review copies and ARCs, as well as offering great info about giving books away as prizes.
Another way to generate enthusiasm for a book, especially around release time, is to offer copies of the book as prizes. I’ve done giveaways on my own blog by having readers answer trivia questions about easy historical issues that relate to my release. Other times, I’ve given away books as part of reader appreciation posts. Most of the time, I do giveaways on other blogs that host me for an interview, review, or guest post.
What are your experiences or opinions about free giveaways? Please share them in a private message or in the comment section below!
Here’s to freebies!
We welcome and encourage your thoughtful, courteous comments below.
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