To Offer it Free or Not – Marketing Your Work

Free BooksAs with everything to do with the art of writing, publishing and marketing books, there are different views on the worth of offering your books free.

Some will argue that you should not work for free.  And, in essence, that is what you are doing when you offer your books free.  You have spent countless hours writing, editing, perfecting, and polishing your writing.  You chose the perfect cover, formatted the book for eBook, and finally are rewarded with seeing your hard work available to the world.

Of course, you want some monetary gain from all that hard work.  Who wouldn’t?

But, unless you are already a well-known author, will the world even know you exist?  Will they (the readers) buy your book when you are an unknown quantity to them?  When there are so many badly written, badly edited, and just plain bad, stories out there, the reader needs to have a reason to want to invest their money in your book.

Possibly one of the more appealings ways to an author is the free sample chapters.  However you get that out there, through posting them on social media, allowing partial sample downloads on Smashwords, or ther means.  Free samples let the reader get sucked into the story, and just as they get hooked they are cut off with no option except to stop there or get your book.

I see offering books free as a marketing tool.  Companies do it with other types of products all the time, offering try me samples in the hope you will love it enought to buy it.  The buy one-get one free offer.  Buy that and we’ll toss this in with it.  Get one month free.  Even the grocery stores get in on the action with their free sample days.  These are all teasers to encourage you to buy or try their product.

If there is one thing everyone loves, it is getting something for free.

How many books have you passed over buying because you didn’t know if you would like the author?  The write up on the back cover looks good, the cover art is enticing, but you just don’t know.  So you decide instead to buy that new book by the author you love.

This does not mean you have to give it away free forever.  Offer it free for a limited time. With so many companies marketing other products by this method, it must work.  Otherwise, they would invest that marketing money in other ways to market their products.  You can always offer it free again if it suits your needs.

You can also offer limited time coupon codes so that those who get the code can read it free while others have to purchase it.  Coupon codes can be used in a targeted marketing campaign.  For example, let’s say you are publishing a humor book suitable for grade school kids about survival while camping with scout groups.  Offer the coupon code to your local scout groups, giving the kids the eBook free.  If they read it and love it, they’ll tell their friends about it.  Target book clubs for your genre.  If your book is about gardening, offer the coupon code for free limited time download of your book to a few garden clubs.

Knowing they got something free that others have to pay for makes people feel special.  They feel like they got a prize, they feel superior, they feel a small sense of empowerment.  They feel like they matter just a little bit more.  They feel like someone cares.  Each feels special in a different way, depending on their personality.  It doesn’t matter how they feel special, you made them feel that way and they like you more for it.

The hardest part of selling books is getting readers to know it exists. If free offers help, then it is worth it.  The first job of selling your book is getting someone to read it.  If you did your job right in writing the book, then they will do your second job for you – getting them to talk about it.

People talk about books and share information on them for three reasons:

(1) They loved it,

(2) They found it controversial and it got their blood boiling,

(3) They hated it.

Nobody talks about the book that isn’t noteworthy.  They also won’t talk about it if they haven’t read it or even heard of it.  If they loved it, they will talk about it, and they also will want to read more.

Another way to get free samples of your work into your potential readers’ hands is short stories.  Offer short stories for free eBook download.  Blog them, Facebook them, share them.

Consider this:  work together with another author who writes similar stories in the same genre.  You both offer a free short story written by the other with the purchase of your book.  Both authors have a vested interest in promoting the books, one to earn the royalties and the other to get their reader audience to grow through the free short story.

Always remember to plug your other work.  Whether a book or a short story, free or for a price, always remember to include a plug for other published work that is available.

Every piece has to be your best.  Whether free or not, a 100 word flash fiction or 150,000 novel; every bit of writing you put out there needs to be good.  Advertising yourself with mediocre short stories will not increase your readership.

However you choose to market your work, the goal is the same – getting potential readers and buyers to notice you in a sea of possible authors.

L. V. where the bodies areGaudet is the author of Where the Bodies Are

What kind of dark secret pushes a man to commit the unimaginable, even as he is sickened by his own actions?

Watch for book 2 of the McAllister series coming soon at Second Wind Publishing, LLC:  The McAllister Farm.  The secret behind the bodies is revealed.

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Other links to purchase L.V. Gaudet’s books

Link to reviews of Where the Bodies Are on Angie’s Diary

Follow L. V. Gaudet:

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Filed under How To, L.V. Gaudet, marketing, writing

25 responses to “To Offer it Free or Not – Marketing Your Work

  1. I have had mixed results offering my work for free. “This Broken Earth” did pretty well with the free offer, selling many copies after the promotion was over. My latest book “Come Apart” has yet to see very many copies sold. I guess it is a hit or miss as to what works.

    • I think you are right, it is all a big hit or miss with any marketing ploy we use. We can only do our best to get it out there into the hands of readers that will hopefully tell their friends about your book so they want to buy it.

  2. “The hardest part of selling books is getting readers to know it exists.”

    I agree with the above statement; however, I’m not sure how giving away copies solves the issue.

    Having a listing on Amazon is great, too, but if no one knows to search for you, it amounts to simple vanity: telling family and friends you’re on Amazon. So giving away free copies still doesn’t get you in front of prospective buyers.

    Additionally, buying one of something at my local grocer to get another free item is one thing—the company making the product is still making a profit because of a) the markup; or b) the expiration date is approaching and they’d rather make a smaller profit than none at all in addition to having to take the item back and dispose of it, which costs money. And besides, a book is read, in general, once. A cleaning solution, if the consumer likes it, encourages the consumer to buy more when they finish it.

    When I read, “I downloaded a copy of this book free, loved it, and bought six more copies as gifts,” I think, ‘yeah, right.’ The only time giving away a free copy MIGHT work is if you have other books, and I’m skeptical of that. Second Wind offered one of my titles for free for a time, and I didn’t notice an increase in sales of my other novels on my next royalty statement.

    Has it been proven that giving away a book for free is going to offer a future return?

    I Googled this practice and found a few articles that claim it’s a good practice, several others that claim it’s not, and a few that offered a qualified “yes.” Apparently the practice isn’t definitive one way or the other.

    I belong to a number of groups at Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and elsewhere, and every time I get an alert for a free download of a book, for a limited time only, I think, ‘Self-published drivel, can’t sell it, must give it away.’ Maybe I’m old school, but I equate quality with something for which I must pay.

    A young man sent me an email through my website a few years ago wanting to know how he could go about obtaining a copy of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings. I directed him to the Second Wind website and Amazon, to which he replied, “I never pay for a book. How can I get one free?”

    Now if he’d told me that he was an agent or a promoter of books, and that in return he’d write me a glowing review and post a link on his website with my bio and a synopsis of the book and its cover, I might’ve been willing to send him a PDF. But as you already pointed out: I’ve spent hundreds of hours writing my first draft, dozens more rewriting, editing and polishing subsequent drafts with no remuneration for my efforts, so why should I give away my work to someone who “NEVER pays for books”? Because for every one like him, ten others will buy another book if they like the first one? Prove that.

    With so many writers giving away their work for free, why does anyone have to pay for a book, ever, unless your name is Patterson, King, Steel, or Rowling? Like people who are obsessed with garage sales—although I’ve never seen anyone leave with a garage—there are people who look for free books and will NEVER buy one.

    Unless you can prove to me that a percentage of consumers, and I mean a large percentage, will download a free book, read it, enjoy it, and go out of their way to buy another book by the same author, I’m afraid I can’t agree that this is a sound business practice.

    Why not offer the first three chapters, or the first hundred pages free, get the reader hooked, then make them buy the rest of the book, at a discount, to find out how it ends?

    Which brings me back to my initial point: giving away something for free isn’t going to increase your brand or name or royalty if you’re not getting in front of an audience to begin with.

    Sorry to be such a downer, but then, I’ve always been a glass seven-eighths empty kind of guy.

    • You make some very good points J Conrad. I laughed at the picture in my head of someone walking away from a garage sale with a garage, lol.

      I agree with you that someone contacting you and expecting a free book just because they don’t pay for books is a bit impolite.

      Limited offers of a free book is only one of the ways to offer something extra to hopefully encourage sales. As you mentioned, offering free first chapters is a good way to give readers a taste. A lot of other authors offer contests and swag gifts.

      You are absolutely right that there is no guarantee. There are none with any marketing gimmicks. And all that cost and work that goes into a book is why I think free offers should be limited.

      Whether we offer a book free for a limited time, first chapters for free download, or free short stories, it is all for one thing – in the hope that the readers will love it enough to buy more of your writing, to get them talking and raving about it to their friends and family, and in hope they will leave reviews and likes on your books.

      Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, And luck seems to play a lot into it.

      • Thanks, LV, for your response.

        I’m participating in a discussion on a writers’ forum that speaks to this topic. One of the members posted a list of sites that promote giveaways, and that list went on for quite some time as I scrolled down the page.

        As I mentioned above, why would anyone pay for any book today when it can be found somewhere for free? I think this question is especially relevant for writers like us who are struggling to make a name for ourselves in a very competitive industry where supply is growing in the face of dwindling demand. If my name was James Patterson, people would be more than willing to part with their money for my latest novel. But he’s a household name. I’m not. But I still don’t see how giving away my books will in any way help develop a following down the road.

        I’ve given copies of my work to libraries, but that’s not the same at all. Several of those copies ended up being auctioned off after a time when they hadn’t been checked out after some predetermined length of time, so even that seems counterproductive.

        I’m giving away several short stories at Smashwords and some months my royalty statement shows my downloads of those freebies outnumber sales of my other titles. My short stories must be horrendous because they certainly don’t seem to be driving people to purchase my novels.

        Yes, luck plays a huge part in success in this business, more than talent, more than hard work. Every once in a while someone wins the Mega Millions Lotto, and it always seems to be the one who gets lucky, not the person with a system, who invests in their craft and works hard to improve it.

        • That’s just it. We are fighting against a glut of too many books on the market, and a large number available free at any given time. If no one ever takes a chance to spend the money on our books because they don’t know if they will like the writing, then free samples at least are a way for them to get a taste. Downloading the first chapters free, free flash fiction, short stories included free with another author’s book, these are all ways to give readers a taste.

          Especially if we can offer that free taste along with another author’s book, it gets that sample into the hands of more readers. If they like what they read they are more likely to want more, and to buy our books.

          I haven’t seen free short stories, but I have seen free sample chapters added to the back of traditionally published books published by the same publishing group.

  3. The sea is so wide, the ocean so full, the haystack so prickly with sharp pointed needles and novels, and the bookstore…. I either love bookstores for their wealth of dreams, or fear them for the shattering of my dreams.

  4. L.V., I tend to agree with J. Conrad in that I worked too hard to get my book written and published to give it away, however I think it depends on where/how the book is given away. I gave away copies to my local library and a couple other libraries that requested it, an organization that deals with foster care/adoption knowing my book would be promoted on their website, to reviewers who gave me reviews, and to a couple of authors who gave me blurbs for the cover, and to special friends whom I knew would spread word-of-mouth news of my book’s release. In other words, I gave away my book to people who might benefit my sales, as best I could. Beyond that, I gave/give talks at different organizations about my book and about myself, went to a couple conventions where I was a panelist and later did signings, continue to blog every month on the Second Wind Blog, wear a pin on my clothing (that has the cover of my book on it) everywhere I go (people often ask what the pin is and I have a ready short answer). Guest blogging is another method of getting my book known and I did that when my book first came out. I have a website and occasionally people contact me through that with questions or comments. I continue to learn methods to sell books, but these have netted me with the best results.

    • It sounds like you did a pretty good job finding the right places to give free books to get more promotion. That’s what it is all about – promoting and getting the word out there.

      I think we could all take a few good pointers from you 🙂

      • Thank you, L.V. I just hope it helps others. So many people have given advice, encouragement, tips, to me, I like to try my best to give back.

        • I hope so too. We are all in this together and no matter how much anyone thinks they know, someone else may have a better idea. It’s an ever-changing market.

  5. Reblogged this on Michaelphelps1's Blog and commented:
    When I released my last books, I listed them FREE on Amazon Kindle for three days. 968 took advantage of the offer. How many SALES resulted by ‘Word-of-mouth’ – ID any, I have no clue.

  6. Giving away books can assist in obtaining reviews and the more reviews one has the greater the possibility of selling books. Having said that, I find having a blog and utilising contacts gained from so doing (by requesting honest reviews in return for a free copy of my books) can also be effective. Kevin

  7. Stuart Land

    Hi, LV. While your article really sounds convincing in practical terms, and it probably is for some very few people, what’s missing is the heretofore singular fact that occurs mostly, if not only, to writers, in this virtual age: People download free books (and other virtual stuff) by the container-full just to have it for free. They get so much stuff this way, they have no time to read very much of it. There is no urgency because they now have it in their virtual library and can go to it anytime. I offered a couple of my books for free several years ago to test this theory. 2700 people downloaded the first book in one day. The second book, in another year, was around 600. Not one person left a review, good or bad. There was zero spike in my sales. The reviews I have received on all my books came from mostly paid sales, are very good. I do give my books away for free to reviewers, bloggers, and people I like. I would never again give away my books for free to the general public. And I would advise against anyone giving away their books for free. Why? Because when writers stop giving away their books for free, readers will appreciate them more, and pay for the right to read their hard-won stories.

    • You have a very good point. I’m guilty too of having a lot of books I downloaded free when the authors offered it that I haven’t read yet. I think the trick is to figure out where to best selectively market the free giveaway promo. One that I do push is the free first chapters. If a reader isn’t hooked enough to buy it after reading the first chapters free, then either it just wasn’t for them or I didn’t do my job in writing a spellbinding book.

  8. darkwriter67

    Reblogged this on Illuminite Caliginosus.

  9. Reblogged this on cicampbellblog and commented:
    To offer my work for free or not…just what I’ve been wondering!

  10. Some people who’ve used Bookbub to advertise report good results (but not only you have to give the book discounted or free, but have to have a fair number of good reviews and pay a fair amount) at least temporarily, but it seems to depend on the genre of the book. I think that with the exception of giving very targeted free early copies as a way of obtaining reviews, or perhaps, giving the first book of a series for free as a way of bringing sales to the rest of the books, there are far too many free books available to have a huge impact. But who knows? It works for some people… or it did. Times, they are a-changing.

    • Yes, see that is what I think is the key. Give teasers, tasters, just enough to make the reader want more. Free copies given to select groups for limited promotions, groups that are likely to rave and share how much they liked the book. Heck, even bad publicity can sell books. No one will buy it if they don’t know it is there.

  11. Pingback: Compelling Posts — Week of June 22 – June 28 2015 | The Rattling Bones

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