Best practice for Giving Away Free Books

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I’m revisiting an old topic this week as I look at some promotional avenues. Below are my all new thoughts on book freebies!

One of the most widely used tools for indie authors is the book giveaway. It can inspire a quick following and even generate real sales if it’s used correctly. It is not, however, as easy as setting your price to free, sitting back, and watching your download count tick higher like a fuel pump.

A book giveaway is not by any means a magic bullet to turn on a massive new readership. However, if you follow a few simple steps you to maximize your results it might spark up interest in your book—particularly if you have a back list (other books that curious will find by clicking through.)

First, understand that a giveaway is a means to promote and advertise. There are companies that specialize in doing this for profit. What I mean by this is: it’s something that many people will heavily invest time and money into… you won’t succeed if you only give it a paltry effort. Planning is important.

Getting people to buy a book typically moves people through a process called “The Funnel.”         The funnel is a road that moves people from discovery to fandom; it’s also been called AIDA. The four basic steps are

  1. Attention
  2. Interest
  3. Desire
  4. Action

A reader learns about you though some means of awareness (a promo, advert, recommendation, or seeing the book on a shelf.) Something must kindle their interest and draw him or her to the title. Provided their expectations are met after reviewing the contents or blurb, they move to Action which is hopefully a purchase. It might also present itself as signing up for a mailing list, shelving a book on Goodreads, or bagging in a wishlist.

Understanding that structure begs the question of strategy. How will you get attention? Will your copy, cover, and content generate interest and desire? What is the Action you want? (If you don’t know that, you ought to figure it out first. Don’t just give away a book because some blog said it was a good idea—that’s how you lose money and gain frustration.) Typical Action items Indies want are Likes/Follows on social media, signing up for mailing lists, increased shares/attention and continued promo/visibility (added to lists in Goodreads, etc.), book purchases from backlists or associated titles, and reviews. Your intended Action step/outcome helps to determine the other components.

Also, remember that you can giveaway other items than your book—that’s important to keep in mind when crafting the Action step. Many people giveaway gift cards, items such as a free Kindle or ereader, etc. Just keep in mind that Amazon’s search and destroy algorithms sometimes take issue with reviews by people who got a gift card from the author they later reviewed (resulting in the review being taken down).

Ask yourself how you will bring attention to the giveaway. Many readers go in search of them through Amazon’s kindle freebie lists and many do the same for Goodreads’ paperback giveaways. Larger networks such as these (and others like LibraryThing) have a built-in network that someone else has worked hard to craft, like Bookbub. Those places may or may not charge a fee for you to access their platform. You will need to decide if that will be a worthwhile endeavor for your publicity. There are many free and paid options available. In my experience the expensive ones are often worth it and see a return (the same for most free places since there’s no cost except for time), while the cheapest paid services have consistently been a waste of money. Don’t buy generic advertising unless you’ve got a solid referral.

When setting up a giveaway don’t forget the timeliness of it. Use a calendar with alerts. You will want to increase your social media presence and use every promotional tool in your arsenal. Run the contest for long enough that readers can find you and sign up, however, don’t run the promo for too long or readers’ interest will peter out. Give away more than a single copy to increase readership. You should be prompt with your fulfillment, too, but exercise wisdom and check out the winners. One Goodreads giveaway resulted in a winner on an overtly religious book I had written. Her profile revealed that her favorite fiction genre was F/F Slash (lesbian fanfiction erotica.) I felt pretty certain that she would not like my book and explained it to her while offering a new book I had published that she might find better suited. She took me up on the offer. While I did not get a review out of it, I avoided an almost certain negative review.

There are many services that will help you run your giveaway and collect/generate data on your behalf. Check out Rafflecopter, KingSumo, and ShortStack.

I’ll leave you with a practical example for a promo on my book Wolf of the Tesseract. My goal is multifaceted, I want to generate interest/further awareness and also generate reviews if possible. I will use ShortStack to collect data on a giveaway of collected books within my genre—including my book, but also several more famous titles to generate brand association. All entrants will have the option of receiving the promotional, prequel comic book I produced as an advertising medium delivered electronically. They will also get a promo code giving them 20% off Wolf of the Tesseract if they order from the publisher.

This marketing push will coincide with a Goodreads giveaway (Goodreads does not allow authors to collect data on their entries but has a large following). An ebook promo will run on LibraryThing at the same time as the Goodreads paperback event.

Because the ShortStack service collects more data and will be advertised across more platforms I will concentrate effort there and use my “free” promo solutions to point to that event (by free, I mean the avenues that require an investment of time rather than money…Facebook groups, twitter blasts, etc.) I will also invest in an ad campaign on Facebook.

I hope this helps you as a guide to crafting your own publicity event. My example might be admittedly broad and experts recommend focusing attention on one or two things at a time to maximize success… then again, I’d hate to start being called “successful” by people.

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